Posts Tagged ‘Matterdale’

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

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

Matterdale Church, Cumberland

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

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

Background to the trials

Matterdale

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

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

The Carlisle trial and the appeal

Hutton John – Andrew Huddleston’s Manor

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

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

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

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

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

The House of Lords

London in 1690

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

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

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

He based his case on his contention that:

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

And that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westermell Fell – Now Great Mell Fell

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

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

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

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

The verdict

The House of Lords in the seventeenth century

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

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

The day before the hearing the Lords ordered that:

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

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

I give the Lords’ verdict in full:

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

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

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

Who were the protagonists and their witnesses?

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

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

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

Brownrigg In Matterdale – Where William Mounsey lived

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

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

What was it all about?

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

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

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

Sheepfold on Hutton Moor

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

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

George Orwell once put it thus:

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

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

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

Deprived of the Commons many Matterdale people ended up here

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

Sources

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

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

Many of the Matterdale Grisdales became priests. I’ve written about a few already, notably the Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale, the founder of Matterdale school; John Grisdale, who was curate of Troutbeck in Westmorland; Solomon Grisdale who died in  mysterious circumstances; and Benjamin Grisdale who was with his friend General Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown, when the Americans finally won their independence. There are many more. At the upper end of the scale was the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale, who became the chancellor of the diocese of Carlisle. Then there was another Solomon who was curate of Steeple Morden in Cambridgeshire for many years, also Richard Grisdale the curate of Crook in Westmorland, and even Joseph Grisdale, the son of the first Solomon already mentioned, who became the schoolmaster and vicar of Wymondham in Norfolk. This is not an exhaustive list. But what about closer to home in Matterdale itself?

Here I’d like to tell just a little about the life of the curates of Matterdale church, particularly in the seventeenth century following the very unfortunate ‘restoration’ of King Charles the Second. At this time and later the curate of Matterdale Church was Thomas Grisdale. He was the incumbent for fifty-two years, from 1666 until his death in 1718.  What was the life of these curates like? What type of men were they? How and by whom were they paid?

The unfortunate restoration of King Charles in 1660

The unfortunate restoration of King Charles in 1660

Perhaps it might be good to start with the words of one of England’s greatest historians, Thomas Macaulay. Referring to the seventeenth century, Macauley wrote:

The Anglican priesthood was divided into two sections, which in acquirements, in manners, and in social position, differed widely from each other. One section, trained for cities and courts, comprised men familiar with all ancient and modern learning . . . men of address, politeness, and knowledge of the world; men with whom Halifax loved to discuss the interests of empires, and from whom Dryden was not ashamed to own that he had learned to write. The other section . . . was dispersed over the country, and consisted chiefly of persons not at all wealthier, and not much more refined, than small farmers or upper servants. . .  The clergy [in these rural districts] were regarded as a plebeian class. … A waiting woman was generally considered as the most suitable helpmate for a parson. . . . Not one living in fifty enabled the incumbent to bring up a family comfortably. … It was a white day on which he was admitted into the kitchen of a great house, and regaled by the servants with cold meat and ale. His children were brought up like the children of the neighbouring peasantry. His boys followed the plough, and his girls went out to service.

Thomas Macaulay

Thomas Macaulay

Among the priestly Grisdales we might include in the first section the Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale, the vicar of rich St. Martins in the Field in London; the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale, the chancellor of the diocese of Carlisle and even his brother Benjamin Grisdale, a very well connected army chaplain. But all the rest squarely fall into Macaulay’s second segment, certainly including Thomas Grisdale the long-serving curate of Matterdale. They were to be sure ‘not much more refined, than small farmers or upper servants’.

Of course there was a lot of blatant class snobbery coming from the landed gentry when they ever mentioned lowly curates like Thomas Grisdale. One story I like was told by W. J. Conybeare in his excellent The Church in the Mountains published in the Edinburgh Review in 1853. Conybeare was concerned with Wales, Cumberland and Westmorland, all poor ‘mountainous’ areas. He says that a ‘gentleman who resides in Westmoreland’ had written:

As a rule the clergy here are of a low order, and rarely associate with the gentry. In our own village, for instance, where the clergyman is not by any means a bad specimen, no servant is kept at his house, and several of his sons have been brought up to handicraft trades. We are very good friends, but he could not visit at my house. . . . His sister was waiting-maid to a friend of ours.

Conybeare adds wryly:

As an illustration of these statements, it may be worthwhile to mention that the writer of these pages, some years ago, when in a boat on one of the Cumberland lakes, observed upon the road which ran along the shore, a man and woman ride by on the same horse, the man in front, the woman behind. “There goes our priest and his wife,” said the boatman. On landing, soon after, the worthy couple were seen making hay together in a small field which the clergyman farmed.

Good on them!

Matterdale

Matterdale

Conybeare mentions another friend he had consulted ‘who was well acquainted with the diocese of Carlisle who estimated ‘the proportion of the hill-clergy in Westmoreland and Cumberland, who are “more or less intoxicated at one time or another, at parties, fairs, or markets “as one-sixth of the whole number.’ Another informant wrote that ‘several of the clergy’ in his neighbourhood were ‘notorious drunkards’.

‘The social position held by the clergy may be inferred from the above statements’, says Conybeare, adding that their status was in fact ‘precisely the same with that assigned to their predecessors by Mr. Macaulay’.

Conybeare goes to great length to explain the social, economic and political causes of this situation as well as to show how the prevailing view was unfair. I will quote just a little of this fine work:

We have said that Mr. Macaulay’s account of the rural Clergy of the reign of Charles II. would apply almost verbatim to the Mountain Clergy of the present century (ed. the nineteenth). We may add that this condition of things originates in the same cause which he assigns for it; namely, the inadequacy of the parochial endowments. But here we must guard against misconception.

Let it not for a moment be supposed that we consider poverty a degradation to the preacher of the Gospel. God forbid that wealth should be necessary to the ministry of a religion which made the poor of this world rich in faith — a religion whose apostles were Galilean fishermen. A clergy may be very ill-endowed, and yet, by a judicious system of organisation and discipline, and by a proper provision for its education, it may command not only the love of the poor, but the respect of the rich. The efficiency of the Scotch establishment during the last century and a half is a decisive proof of this.

But if we have a clergy taken from the poorer classes of society, and left in indigence, without education, without superintendence, without organisation, and without discipline, then it will inevitably become despised and despicable.  Not that a priesthood of vulgar paupers is in reality more contemptible than a hierarchy of well-bred Sybarites; for, in the sight of God, Leo X. was perhaps more despicable than Tetzel; but that the cultivated Epicurean will be able to veil his faults under a more decent disguise.

The careless and undevout members of an uneducated peasant clergy will retain the low tastes and coarse vices of the class from which they sprang; and the zealous (who at the best must be a minority) will disgust their more intelligent parishioners by an illiterate fanaticism. These may be followed by the ignorant, but will be ridiculed by the educated; those will be deservedly despised by rich and poor alike.

When men who are appointed by the State to be the religious guides and examples of the people thus forfeit both the respect of the wise and the esteem of the good, the object of their mission is defeated.

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church

I have no idea what type of curate or man Thomas Grisdale was; he was, as I have said, the curate of mountainous Matterdale for fifty-two years, throughout Charles II’s reign and beyond. I do hope he occasionally got on a horse with his wife Elizabeth Grisdale (nee Noble), my own 6th great grandmother, and made a little hay. He may have liked the odd beer or two too.

But although Thomas was in all likelihood looked down on by the local gentry, it seems he was well regarded by his parishioners. Not only was he their curate for fifty-two years but somewhat after his death we find testimony to the fact that the people of Matterdale could and always had chosen their curates and were very happy with them.  The testimony in question was written by the ‘inhabitants’ of Matterdale between 1735 and 1747 to Bishop Fleming of Carlisle:

To the Right Reverend Father in God George Lord Bishop of Carlisle the Petition of the Inhabitants of the Chappelrie of Matterdale humbly showeth  That the Chappel of Matterdale is now Vacant that when the Revd Mr. Woof left us before he resigned the place some of the Inhabitants of our Chappelry waited on our Rector the Reverend Mr. Law at his house at Graystock and acquainted him that Mr. William Todhunter of Dacre would be very acceptable to us and hoped he would give him his nomination.

Greystoke Rectory

Greystoke Rectory

He told us he had given his Consent to the Rev. Mr. Rumney’s son Leonard as soon as Mr. Woof had resigned the place.  We drew a writing and with one consent subscribed it to certifie him we were agreed to Recomend to his approbation Mr. William Todhunter and requested of him to give his nomination as his Predecessor had always done to the Person we requested and we told him we believ’d we had a Right and that it was our Duty so to do, He Replied if we had any Right he did not want nor would he have it and that your Lordship was the Properest Judge and to you my Lord, we would refer it.

Wherefore my Lord we Begg you would give us leave to lay our case before you as Briefly as we can and that Mr. Grisdale was the Person we requested his nomination which is the antientest we believe that is at Rose Castle will testefie and Mr. Clerk that succeeded him was the Person the Inhabitants requested and Mr. Taylor that succeeded him was the Person we requested his Father yet Living can testefie and Mr. Walker that succeeded him is at this time Mr. Atkinson’s Curate at Kirkby Thore and will testefie he was the man we requested and Mr. Atkinson that succeeded him was the man we chose and his Lordship your Lordship’s predecessor put him in when our Chappel had been long vacant and Mr. Woof was the man the Major part of the Inhabitants subscribed with If the Revd Mr. Law can say this is not the very truth we’ll say no more and with submission, the reason why we should have something to say we think is because we endowed the Chappel with the salrie  my Lord our Ancestours raised forty pounds (a great sum for so poor a Chappelry when money was so scarce) and lent it at two shillings i’th pound and when the Interest of Money lowered that it would not make four pounds a year and when it was in danger of being lost we withdrew the money and agreed to pay two shillings sixpence out of every eight shillings rent Tenement which makes about four pounds ten shillings and which with our little Glebe and surplice dues is the salary at this day and some or other is and has been all ways willing to accept of it and we hope we may say we have not one man that had any Blemish in his life and conversation and that the service of Almighty God has been performed with as much Decencie and as good Order as in any Chappel in your Lordship’s Diocess, so we desire your Lordship would be pleased to take the matter into Consideration and do sincerely assure you my Lord that your Judgment and determination shall be final and for ever put an end to our onnhappy janglings and we shall still continue to pray.

Rose Castle, the residence of the Bishops's of Carlisle

Rose Castle, the residence of the Bishops of Carlisle

The issue involved here was quite simple: the inhabitants of the chapelry of Matterdale had always chosen their own priest, because, as they say, they paid for him. ‘Mr. Grisdale’, i.e. Thomas Grisdale, ‘was the person we requested, his nomination is the antcientes (ancientest) we believe that is at Rose Castle (the residence of the Bishop’s of Carlisle) will testifie.’ They also chose or requested all Thomas Grisdale’s successors until Mr. Woof and say how this can be proved. Their curates had never been imposed on them against their will – until now.

Now the Revd Mr. Law, the rector of Greystoke, Matterdale’s mother church, was going to impose his own choice: Leonard Rumney, the son of a local vicar who was no doubt a friend of Mr. Law. Regarding the parishioners’ right to choose their own curate the Revd Law had replied that even if they had this right ‘he did not want nor would he have it’. He didn’t give a damn; he’d have his own man.

Actually neither Leonard Rumney nor William Todhunter was appointed.

Greystoke Church

Greystoke Church

Returning to the reason the parishioners had this right, they rightly said because their ancestors had endowed the Chappel with forty pounds to pay the curate’s salary, even though this was a ‘great sum for so poor a Chappelry when money was so scarce’. When this endowment had proved insufficient they had changed to paying yearly ‘two shillings sixpence out of every eight shillings rent Tenement which makes about four pounds ten shillings’ – there being thirty-six tenements of this value in Matterdale as we shall see.

Regarding the character and performance of the curates the people of Matterdale had chosen from Mr. Grisdale onwards, the Revd. J. Whitseside had this to say in his excellent 1901 article Matterdale Church and School:

We have been accustomed in late years to some severe strictures on the morals and manners of the old dale priests from critics who too hastily assumed that what was true of a few might be asserted of many. It is, therefore, refreshing to have the testimony of the people of Matterdale — “We have not had one man that had any blemish in his life and conversation.” The whole document is most honourable to the dalesmen, testifying both to their sturdy native independence and their willingness to submit to constituted authority in the Church.

I wrote about the origins of Matterdale church in a recent article (see here). What is abundantly clear is that from the very start in about 1566 when the first ‘chapelry of ease’ was allowed in Matterdale and certainly from 1580 when the chapel got full parochial rights i.e. the right to perform weddings, baptisms and burials, the inhabitants of the valley had always had to pay not only for the curate but for the church building as well.

A document that was in the church safe in Matterdale dated 1699 reads as below. Please do note that all the YEs and YTs for ‘the’ and ‘that’ do not mean people actually talked like this. The Y was just a letter signifying the sound TH; contrary to general opinion nobody ever said ‘Ye Olde Tavern’ or the like.

Whereas about ye eight year of Queen Elizabeth (1566) the Inhabitants of Matterdale did petition for having a church att ye said Matterdale which was granted in Bishop Best his time (1561-1570) with a pviso that they should maintain a Currate att it which ye said Inhabitants did pmise and Ingage to doe.

And in order thereto did make up about fforty pounds Church stock amongst them that ye use thereof might goe to ye Currate which was then Lent forth att two shillings the pound or more. But in ye time of King James the First (1603- 1625) when money came to a Lower use the said Inhabitants were forced to take ye said Church stock into their own hands And pay to ye Currate two shillings which hath so continued ever since.

Now we considering that often part of ye said Church stock is lost and we have it to make up again And often times we have much cost and trouble with sueing for yt which is in dainger to be lost And also when a Tenant dyes ye widow and younger children hath it to pay to ye heir forth of ye deceased man’s goodds And therefore we having ye said Church stock in our own hands doe agree and Covenant to lay it upon our own Lands so that every Tenement of eight shillings Rent shall yearly pay to ye Currate two shillings sixpence of Current English money as a known due forth of ye land accordingly, and to ye first Covenent.

And so every one yt hath more or less rent after yt rate and to continue from ansestor to heirs accordingly as is hereafter subscribed …. doe hereby bind ourselves our heires executors successors on our land as wittnesse our hands and sealls In ye eleavent year of ye Reigne of King William ye third over England &c. and in ye year of our Lord God 1699.

This document includes the signatures of thirty-six inhabitants and how much each is paying towards the upkeep of the curate Thomas Grisdale. It is interesting to note that seven of these thirty-six are other members of the Matterdale Grisdale clan.

James  the first, another disastrous king

James the first, another disastrous king

So since King James’ time, the initial forty pound endowment had been replaced by the two shillings and sixpence paid by each of the thirty six eligible tenement holders. And it seems that this was usually done. The Rev. J. Whiteside quotes the former president of the Cumberland and Westmorland antiquarian and archaeological society as saying: ‘The origin of these chapelries requires to be made known: their salaries are charges on the land, but the deeds creating the charges are at this date rarely forthcoming, and in some places the land owners, who are liable to them, are beginning to repudiate the payment on the ground that they are voluntary payments, were abolished with church-rates or other frivolous and shabby pretence.’ ‘‘A repudiation, says Whiteside, ‘which has not taken root in Matterdale’.

In summary, since 1566 or slightly thereafter, the inhabitants of Matterdale had not only paid the ‘priest wage’ as it was known but also chosen him themselves, subject to the approval of both the Rector of Greystoke and the Bishop of Carlisle – that is until the Revd Mr. Law came along.

In the seventeenth century the average rural priest-wage was very low indeed, generally between five and ten pounds per annum. As we have seen, at best Thomas Grisdale’s wage would have been four pounds ten shillings. How did he and his predecessors and followers survive? Here we have to look at what is called the parish ‘Glebe Terrier’ or just ‘Terrier’.

A seventeenth century Glebe Terrier

A seventeenth century Glebe Terrier

A glebe terrier is a term specific to the Church of England. It is a document, usually a written survey or inventory, which gives details of glebe, lands and property in the parish owned by the Church of England and held by a clergyman as part of the endowment of his benefice, and which provided the means by which the incumbent (rector, vicar or perpetual curate) could support himself and his church. Typically, glebe would comprise the vicarage or rectory, fields and the church building itself, its contents and its graveyard… “Terrier” is derived from the Latin terra, “earth”.

The glebe terrier would be drawn up at the time of each visitation, an official visit usually by the archdeacon. The Archdeacon would visit each parish annually, and the bishop visited outlying parts of his diocese every few years to maintain ecclesiastical authority and conduct confirmations.

Each church was entitled to a house and glebe. The glebe lands were either cultivated by the clergyman himself, or by tenants to whom he leased the land. In those cases where the parsonage was not well-endowed with glebe, the clergyman’s main source of income would come from the tithes.

In 1704, when Thomas Grisdale was still curate, such a Terrier was made of Matterdale by the Rector of Greystoke, the summary reads:

Imprimis. One dwelling house with a byer and a barn (sixteen yards in length) to be built at the charges of the hamlet, when they fall; the repair onely at the Charge of the Curate. Item, One Close by estimation two Acres: Item, the Chapple yard ; by estimation half an acre. The curate has right of common (and liberty to get peats and turff) both within the liberties of Weathermealock and Matterdale. Every tenement (whereof there are 36 in number) pays 2s 6d except one cottage called Park Gate which pays 2s onely. Total 4I 9s 6d. For every marriage is 1s 6d whereof !s is due to the rector of Graystock and 6d to the Curate.

Notice the thirty-six tenements in Matterdale (of a certain standing and value), the farmer of each one except one having to still pay the 2s 6d each year, thus giving the total of 4l 9s 6d. In addition we see that the curate might earn a bit more from marriages (though twice as much went to the rector) and had rights of common including getting peat and turf to burn in his ‘dwelling house with a byer and a barn’.

A latter Terrier in 1776 gives slightly more details:

A perfect Terrier of all the Houses Lands Tenements and augmentations and yearly profits belonging to the Curacy of Matterdale in the parish of Graystock in the County of Cumberland and Diocese of Carlisle.

1.  A Thatch house Three lengths of Timber containing a Barn & a Byer with about two acres and a half of arable and meadow ground. Valued at about Two pound ten a year. This lays in Matterdale.

2. Two shillings and sixpence a Tenement which comes to Four pounds Ten shillings.

3. One fourth of an estate lying and being at Burton-in- Lonsdale in the parish of Thornton and County of York let at yearly rent of Ten pound. N.B. No Houses.

4. Brunt Sike Estate in the Hamlet of Howgill in the parish of Sedbecg and County of York containing a dwelling House Bam adjoining a Stable and Loft ov’ it with Twenty four acres of arable and Meadow Ground known by the names of Holme Little Close Hills — Gate House Close High Broom & Thoresgill Let at the yearly rent of fourteen pounds.

5. One half of Hause-foot Estate in the parish of Orton County of Westmorland with a Fine House with one half of the Barn Byer and Stables £7 l0s a year.

Given under our Hands this 4. day of June 1776.

William Wright Curate. Solomon Grisedale Chapelwarden.

Of course these other rents didn’t go to the curates of Matterdale.

Finally we should mention one other way the curate and his family could survive. The Rev. Whiteside tells us that the Matterdale curates were also entitled to ‘Whittlegate’. What is Whittlegate? In Bygone Cumberland and Westmorland, Daniel Scott wrote this in 1899:

bygone cumberlandThe old customs peculiar to Cumberland and Westmorland of “Whittlegate” and “Chapel Wage” have long since passed out of the list of obligations imposed, although the rector of Brougham might still, if he wished, claim whittlegate at Hornby Hall every Sunday. The parsons of the indifferently educated class already alluded to had to be content with correspondingly small stipends, which were eked out by the granting of a certain number of meals in the course of twelve months at each farm or other house above the rank of cottage, with, in some parishes, a suit of clothes, a couple of pairs of shoes, and a pair of clogs. Clarke gives the following explanation of the origin of the term: —

“Whittlegate meant two or three weeks’ victuals at each house, according to the ability of the inhabitants, which was settled among themselves; so that the minister could go his course as regularly as the sun, and complete it annually. Few houses having more knives than one or two, the pastor was often obliged to buy his own knife or ‘whittle.’ Sometimes it was bought for him by the chapel wardens. He marched from house to house with his ‘whittle,’ seeking ‘fresh fields and pastures new,’ and as master of the herd, he had the elbow chair at the table head, which was often made of part of a hollow ash tree — a kind of seat then common.

The reader at Wythburn had for his salary three pounds yearly, a hempen sark or shirt, a whittlegate, and a goosegate, or right to depasture a flock of geese on Helvellyn. A story is still (1789) told in Wythburn of a minister who had but two sermons which he preached in turn. The walls of the chapel were at that time unplastered, and the sermons were usually placed in a hole in the wall behind the pulpit. One Sunday, before the service began, some mischievous person pushed the sermons so far into the hole that they could not be got out with the hand. When the time came for the sermon, the priest tried in vain to get them out. He then turned to the congregation, and told them what had happened. He could touch them, he said, with his forefinger, but could not get his thumb in to grasp them; ‘ But, however,’ said he, ‘ I can read you a chapter out of Job that’s worth both of them put together!'”

So this I hope might give just a flavour of the life of the Matterdale curates in the seventeenth century and beyond.

At the end of the eighteenth century the pressures forcing rural people off the land were reaching a peak. One of the few options besides emigration and joining the army was to move to work in the dark satanic mills. In the north of England this often meant the cotton mills of Lancashire. Several Grisdale families from Matterdale followed this route. This is the story of just one of them. It is also a story of how part of the family then emigrated to Pennsylvania and from there, via Montana and the coal mines of Iowa, to Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. A story of pioneers maybe and a little example of “How the West was Won”.

The story is best started with Thomas Grisdale, who was born in Matterdale in 1772, the eighth and penultimate child of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple. Sometime in the 1790s Thomas  moved to Bolton in Lancashire (then called Bolton Le Moors); he married an Elizabeth Crossley there in September 1796. Between 1799 and 1817 they had nine children in Bolton. The fifth of these, born in 1809, was called Doctor Grisdale – for reasons that are not known. It is he who we will follow to America.

The industrial revolution was getting under way and Lancashire villages were being transformed from small rural settlements into huge cotton producing centres. They quickly became massive sinks of misery, squalor and exploitation for the rural poor – who were to become a new urban proletariat. They were to remain so throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century.

An early Power Loom

Thomas became a cotton weaver. Whether at first he was a hand-loom weaver or whether he started work immediately on one of the new power looms that had recently been invented and patented by Edmund Cartwright we don’t know. Hand loom weavers were a type of urban working class elite and they could earn good wages for their skills. But once mechanised power looms were introduced demand for hand weavers fell and their numbers dwindled. It was precisely against the brutal and inequitable effects of this process that the original Luddites were to fight and this certainly in and around Bolton. One of the most infamous repressions of the Luddite protests took place in nearby West Houghton in 1812. Garth Ratcliffe in the ‘The Burning of Westhoughton Mill by Luddites in 1812’ writes:

On Friday afternoon April 24th 1812 a mob of Luddites from Chowbent/Atherton attacked Westhoughton Mill, a cotton weaving mill situated opposite the White Lion Inn. This Mill was one of the first steam driven in the locality. The Mill was broken into and set fire to and burned down. The Scots Greys stationed in the area, rounded up the suspects who were identified by various witnesses from Hag Fold and other areas of Chowbent which is only about 2 miles from Westhoughton.

The suspects, who were mainly disaffected weavers, were “examined” by Ralph Fletcher and other magistrates and subsequently taken to Lancaster Castle prison to await trial for the charge of burning looms and a factory.
In addition, there were other Luddites mainly from Bolton town centre, who were charged with various aspects of “illegal oath taking/attending illegal meetings”.

Both sets of Luddites were tried on 23rd May 1812 and the results of the trail sentenced four men to be hanged and nine others transported to Australia for seven years.

The executions were at Lancaster Castle. The transported prisoners were taken to Portsmouth to await the next ship to Australia which took about 8 months.

These prisoners had to work for seven years on govt projects or for a landowner. After this period they could apply for ownership of land.

Luddites in Bolton in 1812

Maybe Thomas Grisdale witnessed this? If not he certainly will have heard about it because it was his fellow weavers who were killed, executed and transported to Australia.

But with the Luddite protests crushed by the army and militia, the grim life of the power loom weavers in Lancashire went on. In 1841the family are still working in the cotton mills: Thomas, now aged “65”, living with two of his sons, and Doctor Grisdale with his young family. They were all “cotton weavers”.

Doctor Grisdale had married Mary Greene and their son Thomas was born in 1839. Another son called Joseph was to follow in 1842.

Anybody who would like to get a flavour of the unimaginable squalor and poverty experienced at this time in the Lancashire mill towns would be well advised to read Frederick Engels’ “The Condition of the Working Class in England” published in 1845. Engels had visited Bolton on more than one occasion and made this comment:

Among the worst of these towns after Preston and Oldham is Bolton, eleven miles north-west of Manchester. It has, so far as I have been able to observe in my repeated visits, but one main street, a very dirty one, Deansgate, which serves as a market, and is even in the finest weather a dark, unattractive hole in spite of the fact that, except for the factories, its sides are formed by low one and two-storied houses. Here, as everywhere, the older part of the town is especially ruinous and miserable. A dark-coloured body of water, which leaves the beholder in doubt whether it is a brook or a long string of stagnant puddles, flows through the town and contributes its share to the total pollution of the air, by no means pure without it.

Such was the place in which this Grisdale family lived and worked.

A Delaware Woolen Mill

Some were destined to suffer this cruel fate for decades to come, but some tried to get out. Doctor Grisdale was one of these. Some Lancashire weavers had already emigrated to the United States, there to help in the development of America’s cotton and woollen mills. One place where they had ended up was in Pennsylvania and it was to there that Doctor and his young family headed. They boarded the ship Plymouth Rock in Liverpool and arrived in Boston on 16 January 1850. Just months later the family were established in Upper Darby. Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Doctor was working as a weaver in the mills. Local historian Thomas J. DiFilippo tells us this about Upper Darby:

The growth rate of the township changed about 1830 when textile making moved from the homes into mills. Before 1830, the spinning of yarn and the weaving of cloth was mostly performed at home by the women and primarily to satisfy the family’s needs. About 1830, some old grist mills were converted to spin yarn that was sold to individuals who wove their own crude cloth. About 1840, the mills became “integrated,” meaning they spun the yarn from raw material, then wove, finished and dyed the cloth. This was the beginning of a prosperous large textile industry in Upper Darby that lasted into the mid-1900s.

What became this country’s massive textile industry began in New England then spread to the Delaware Valley. Philadelphia became a major textile center with many mills in Germantown, Manayunk, Kensington, and Blockley. Realizing the potential market for textiles, descendants of the Garretts, Sellers, and Levis, followed by the Burnleys. Kellys, Kents, and Wolfendens, built or converted to textile mills. This expansion occurred after the flood of 1843 because that event destroyed nearly everything along the creeks.

Most of the mills employed Immigrants from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and later Irish Catholics. Although the managers and skilled workers were male, the laborious jobs were performed mostly by women and children. The mills owned the nearby “mill houses” and rented them to their employees. Workers were expected to follow the politics of the mill owners. Very few owners had compassion for the workers and thus the working conditions were poor, the salaries meagre and the working hours long. These conditions bred frequent labor disputes and were the cause of the early child labor laws and unionization.

By 1860 the family had moved to the mills in nearby Upper Merion, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, where Doctor was still employed as a weaver in a woollen mill. What happened to Doctor Grisdale and his wife in the few years after 1860 is unclear, I’ll mention his death later. But the family’s long trek from Bolton to the west coast of America was only just beginning.

A Coal Mine in Oskaloosa. Iowa

What is clear is that Doctor’s son Thomas set off west, probably accompanied with his American born sister, Mary Ann. Perhaps Doctor’s son Joseph had already died? In 1862, Thomas married a very young Elmira Jane Clements, who came originally from Porter, Indiana. Their first child, Dora Mae Grisdale, was born in Montana Territory in 1868. But in 1870 the family was living in Oskaloosa in Mahaska County, Iowa. Thomas was now a “Miner” living with his family and his sister.

Mahaska County was rich in bituminous coal and in the 1870s coal mining became part of the local economy. In 1883, the area had 38 mines and an annual output of over a million tons. In the prime days of mining, Mahaska County surpassed all other Iowa counties in tonnage and number of mines. The advent of transcontinental railroads was also a boon to Mahaska County. The locomotives moved coal out of the area year round as demand for coal increased.

The earliest settlers mined coal among the hills of south central Iowa. They used coal to heat their homes and cook their food in areas were timber was not available.

Not until 1870 did the industry of coal mining begin to rapidly grow in Iowa. By that time the major Iowa railroads reached from the Mississippi River in the east to the Missouri River in the west. The railroads leased land in coal producing areas and operated mines which produced coal for the use of the railroads. These were the largest and most productive mines in the state.

We are also told the following about the Iowa mines of the time:

Usually a coal camp had several hundred small homes, a company store, a tavern or pool hall, and a school. Most coal companies required that miners shop only at the company store which sold everything from “cradles to coffins.”  Most mining families didn’t like this restriction. Because the average coal mine lasted only ten years, little care was given to the appearance of these camps

The history of one of these mines tells us:

One of the best remembered and most unusual coal camps was located in Monroe County in southern Iowa. Buxton, as it was called, was a thriving coal community during the early 1900s.

At first the camp was located at what was called Muchakinock about five miles south of Oskaloosa in, Mahaska County. For at least two years mining was good in this area. But then in 1875 labor troubles began. The workers went on strike. In 1881 black workers recruited from the south were hired as strike breakers.  In a few years the mines of Muchakinock were nearly exhausted. The Chicago and Northwestern railroad, which owned the Consolidation Coal Company, bought more land south in Monroe County. The community moved south where they began to build the town of Buxton.  It was named after J.E. Buxton, the superintendent of the Consolidation Coal Company.

Buxton was a thriving community for at least twenty years. By 1920 the mines began to run out of coal. By 1927 the last mine was closed. Buxton soon became a ghost town like the many other mining camps dotting central Iowa.

We don’t know how long Thomas and Elmira were in this Iowa mining community, their second daughter, Mary Lucinda, was born in Montana in 1870 and by 1873 their third child Thomas Edward was born in Oregon, so maybe they were just passing through? However I think it likely that they remained until at least 1878 because on 25 April in that year Thomas’s father Doctor died and was buried in Oskaloosa. Perhaps he and his wife had come to join them. In any case Oregon was the family’s next stop in the great move west. In 1880 we find them in Roseburg, Douglas County, Oregon with several more children. Thomas’s sister Mary Ann was also there, having by this time married Timothy Ford. But also Doctor Grisdale’s widow Mary had moved with them to Oregon. Thomas was working as a “Brick Maker”. He then moved to Bridgeport, Baker County, Oregon with more of his children and was listed there in the 1900 US Census as a “farmer”. So maybe after more than a century it was back to the land!

The grave of Doctor Grisdale’s widow Mary In Oregon

Thomas Grisdale was still living in 1903 because he paid a substantial council tax in Baker, Oregon, in 1903; but his mother Mary died on 26 June 1901 and was buried in Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery, Portland, Oregon, as was his sister Mary Ann Ford. Something of the immediate history of Thomas’s family can be found on my (evolving) tree on Ancestry; although I have yet to find Thomas’s own death or that of his father Doctor. Thomas’s wife Elmira had married Amos Carson following Thomas’s death and died in 1940 In Baker County, Oregon.

I know this little history is somewhat lacking in detail and is rather skeletal, but it is, I think, another interesting example of the spirit of endurance and survival of so many English people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families – wherever in the world they had to go to do this. The Grisdales in this respect were no different to thousands or millions of others. But I don’t apologize for this. This family is after all the subject of this site. Sometimes I think that while this is family history it is perhaps something more. It can illustrate important social, economic and political realities about English history and the history of the English-speaking world.

Finally, although many members of this Grisdale family were to stay in Bolton (and their stories are interesting too) one other son of the Thomas Grisdale who came from Matterdale, a brother of Doctor, and also called Thomas (1804-1879), also led a very adventurous life. He found his way to Madras in India (possibly with the British Army) and from there, with wife and children, to Melbourne in Australia.

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

mun

Grisdale/Mungrisdale today

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

William Skraghird, Peter son of Hugh, William Slegh, William Riotis,  Robert son of John, Robert son of Gilbert, William son of Robert, Adam son of Peter…

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

Grisdale in 1576

Grisdale in 1576

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

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

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

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

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

Norse Fleet

Norse Fleet

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

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

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

saints1

St Kentigern/Mungo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arnside, a Cumberland Pele Tower

Arnside, a Cumberland Pele Tower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Siege of Calais

The Siege of Calais

 

Edward III and the Black Prince at Crecy, 1346

Edward III and the Black Prince at Crecy, 1346

 

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

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

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

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

Winter in Mungrisdale

Winter in Mungrisdale

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

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

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

Rainbow_Over_Mungrisdale

Rainbow over Mungrisdale

In my own Grisdale family line we find the usual array of professions: yeoman farmer, blacksmith and carpenter for example. But it has always intrigued me that my third great grandfather, William Grisdale, was a Dancing Master in and around Penrith for about sixty years. Luckily William’s teaching, his Balls and his dancing school were repeatedly reported in the Cumbrian press and thus we can get just a flavour of his life and the legacy he left.

We know that William was a Dancing Master because he is listed as such in the censuses of 1841, 1851 and 1861. He was by that time already quite old, having been born in Matterdale in 1785, the sixth and last child of Dockray blacksmith Wilfred Grisdale (1711-1795) and his second wife Ruth Slee (1759-1838). But even when he married Mary Charters in Penrith in 1815 when he was thirty he was already said to be a dancing master. As we will see he’d started this vocation even before that.

The English Dancing Master

The English Dancing Master

What was a ‘Dancing Master’?  Well as we might expect he/she was a teacher of dance. Wikipedia tells us something of the tradition:

The Dancing Master (first edition: The English Dancing Master) is a dancing manual containing the music and instructions for English Country Dance. It was published in several editions by John Playford and his successors from 1651 until c1728. The first edition contained 105 dances with single line melodies; subsequent editions introduced new songs and dances, while dropping others, and the work eventually encompassed three volumes. Dances from The Dancing Master were re-published in arrangements by Cecil Sharp in the early 20th century, and in these reconstructed forms remain popular among dancers today.

Another recent writer says:

For those of you not familiar with Playford’s The English Dancing Master (1651), it was the first collection of popular dance tunes published in the British Isles. It was published in London and sold to the English country dancing market… It was a big hit, and it remained in print through various editions until 1728. It’s not exactly traditional music. It was popular music intended for an urban audience.

The various editions were updated with the hits of the day—songs from popular plays and special music used by professional dancers. However, quite a lot of the material can be found in traditional circulation… English country dancing is first mentioned in the Elizabethan period. Some of the tunes were probably at least 100 years old when they were published. Many of the older tunes existed as songs rather than strictly dance tunes. Nowadays there are two styles of what is called “English country dancing” One is based on Playford tunes. Apparently the tunes are usually played in a style based on late 19th century classical music….

But the type of dancing William taught was more like this:

The other kind of English country dancing is the kind of dancing they do out in the country in England. This is true folk dancing, done to folk tunes played in folk style. It doesn’t really have anything to do with Playford, which has been upper-class stuff since the 17th century. John Playford (1623-1686) was a successful London music publisher. A royalist, he kept a low profile during the Commonwealth and came into political favour with the return of Charles II. He catered to the taste of the emerging bourgeois class which preferred country dancing to the more formal galliards and other formal dances popular with the nobility before the Civil War. His business was carried on by his son Henry. The actual title of the work was: The English Dancing Master, or, Plaine and easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances, with the Tune to each Dance.

From where had William acquired his love of dancing? How had he started to teach? To be honest I have no idea. None of his ancestors and, with one exception, none of his descendants or relatives had anything to do with dancing. William had moved from Matterdale to Penrith sometime prior to his marriage in 1815. The couple had at least nine children. Perhaps William at first followed his father’s profession as a blacksmith or maybe he worked as a carpenter as did many of his family? If he did he didn’t stay at it long before starting to teach dancing which was obviously the love of his life.

As I mentioned, there are dozens of newspaper reports telling of  William Grisdale the Dancing Master, they span several decades. Basically what William did was move from town to town teaching young people to dance. paid for by their parents, and then a Ball would be staged to show off the results. All the reports tell of the great success of these balls and how they were a great credit to Mr. Grisdale, who as he gets older is sometimes refers to as Professor Grisdale or, more often, ‘the patriarchal dancing master’. Here are just a few of my favourites:

Carlisle Journal 13 June 1851

BALL – The merry little village of Wreay was, on thursday evening week, the scene of much gaiety and pleasure. Mr. Wm. Grisdale upon whose head seventy years have shone, has been endeavouring for some time past to fashion the young limbs of  “fair maidens and buxom lads” of the village and surrounding neighbourhood to the graceful evolutions of the mazy dance, and his labours, which have been followed by most decided success, were brought to a close with a ball on the above evening. Rarely, if ever, has so gay and numerous an assemblage of plump, rosy-checked lasses and lish, hardy, light-hearted youths, been gathered together under the hospitable roof of  “old Sally” . The”kings and queens” discharged their duties with true dignity; and the “hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,” in which cross-the-buckle, the double-shuffle and the “cut,”  were all rendered in first rate primitive style, reflect much credit upon both Mr. Grisdale and his pupils. The “bow dance,” however, was the great attraction of the evening, and in finery and gracefulness would succumb to few of our more posturing dances. The young ones having finished their spree, the older folk, inspired by the fire of early days, took possession of the floor, and kept up the pleasure of the ball until the grey mists of morning warned them to depart, which they did with hearts filled with joy.

Wreay, Cumberland

Wreay, Cumberland

Two years later on 16 December 1853 the same newspaper reported:

Dancing School Ball – Mr William Grisdale the patriarchal dancing master, held his ball at the house of Mr Thomas Furness, of Loangwathby… Mr Grisdale is upwards of 74 years of age (sic); yet, though his head is silverd o’ver by time he appears as “lish” and active as ever. He has taught dancing for upwards of half a century, and has always kept within a twenty mile circuit of Penrith, so that at the present time there are few middle aged women in the district who were not his pupils in early life . He has taught three generations. He taught the grandmothers of some of the young misses who were recently his pupils in Longwathby.

And then on 14 April 1854:

Old William Grisdale the patriarchal dancing master, has now a dancing school in Penrith Town head. He is teaching the fourth generation, having taught the great grandfathers and great grandmothers of some of his present pupils.

Naval cadets dancing a hornpipe

Naval cadets dancing a hornpipe

William was still a dancing master in 1861, aged 76, and might have continued somewhat longer. So it seems that William had brought ‘joy’ to four generations of his Cumbrian dancing pupils over a period of about sixty years. He had his fair share of tragedy too – two of his daughter died quite young – but he led a life doing what he wanted to do. Sometime in the 1860s William had to stop his teaching, possibly due too ill health, and the sad fact is that he had to enter Penrith’s workhouse where he died on 30 May 1866, his death only getting two lines in the Carlisle Journal that had followed him for decades. His wife Mary died two years later.

Just a few words on William’s family.  In the early nineteenth century his older brother Wilfred (b 1782) had moved to Carlisle and from there he emigrated with his family to Canada, just after William’s marriage, there to found a veritable Grisdale dynasty in Canada and the United States.

Another brother Gideon (b 1777) moved to London and became a jeweller; his daughter Elizabeth ‘Minnie’ Grisdale first became a ballet dancer at the Drury Lane Theatre in London before marrying a famous painter, moved to Boston and then returned as a widow to hawk fish in Falmouth! Perhaps Minnie had been influenced by her dancing uncle William?

Wilfred Grisdale, William's son

Wilfred Grisdale, William’s son

There is much to tell of William’s children. I’ll only highlight a couple of them. Their son Wilfred (1815-1893) was a carpenter. The family story is that Wilfred loved horses. The picture I have included here might suggest that. He married twice and had eleven children, one being my great grandmother Agnes Grisdale. Another son, also called William, emigrated to Australia in 1853 with his wife and child and there had many adventures.

It’s not much of a story I know, but I just love to think of William teaching country dancing to the good youngsters of Cumberland and Westmorland in the nineteenth century. Perhaps he even knew Levi Grisdale, the landlord of the local tavern called the General Lefebvre. Levi was much more famous, but he and William were related, both being descended from Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray of Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale. I guess we’ll never know.

This is on updated version of an earlier article.

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

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

1576

1576 map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

 

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

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

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

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

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

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

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

Norse Fleet

Norse Fleet

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

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

vikings_arrive

Vikings arrive

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

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

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

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

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

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

Crookwath Barn

Crookwath Barn

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

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

Gowbarrow Hall - A Stateman's Farm

Gowbarrow Hall – A Stateman’s Farm

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

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

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

Greystoke Castle

Greystoke Castle

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

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

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

Many of the Matterdale Grisdales became priests. I’ve written about a few already, notably the Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale, the founder of Matterdale school; John Grisdale, who was curate of Troutbeck in Westmorland; Solomon Grisdale who died in  mysterious circumstances; and Benjamin Grisdale who was with his friend General Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown, when the Americans finally won their independence. There are many more. At the upper end of the scale was the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale, who became the chancellor of the diocese of Carlisle. Then there was another Solomon who was curate of Steeple Morden in Cambridgeshire for many years, also Richard Grisdale the curate of Crook in Westmorland, and even Joseph Grisdale, the son of the first Solomon already mentioned, who became the schoolmaster and vicar of Wymondham in Norfolk. This is not an exhaustive list. But what about closer to home in Matterdale itself?

Here I’d like to tell just a little about the life of the curates of Matterdale church, particularly in the seventeenth century following the very unfortunate ‘restoration’ of King Charles the Second. At this time and later the curate of Matterdale Church was Thomas Grisdale. He was the incumbent for fifty-two years, from 1666 until his death in 1718.  What was the life of these curates like? What type of men were they? How and by whom were they paid?

The unfortunate restoration of King Charles in 1660

The unfortunate restoration of King Charles in 1660

Perhaps it might be good to start with the words of one of England’s greatest historians, Thomas Macaulay. Referring to the seventeenth century, Macauley wrote:

The Anglican priesthood was divided into two sections, which in acquirements, in manners, and in social position, differed widely from each other. One section, trained for cities and courts, comprised men familiar with all ancient and modern learning . . . men of address, politeness, and knowledge of the world; men with whom Halifax loved to discuss the interests of empires, and from whom Dryden was not ashamed to own that he had learned to write. The other section . . . was dispersed over the country, and consisted chiefly of persons not at all wealthier, and not much more refined, than small farmers or upper servants. . .  The clergy [in these rural districts] were regarded as a plebeian class. … A waiting woman was generally considered as the most suitable helpmate for a parson. . . . Not one living in fifty enabled the incumbent to bring up a family comfortably. … It was a white day on which he was admitted into the kitchen of a great house, and regaled by the servants with cold meat and ale. His children were brought up like the children of the neighbouring peasantry. His boys followed the plough, and his girls went out to service.

Thomas Macaulay

Thomas Macaulay

Among the priestly Grisdales we might include in the first section the Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale, the vicar of rich St. Martins in the Field in London; the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale, the chancellor of the diocese of Carlisle and even his brother Benjamin Grisdale, a very well connected army chaplain. But all the rest squarely fall into Macaulay’s second segment, certainly including Thomas Grisdale the long-serving curate of Matterdale. They were to be sure ‘not much more refined, than small farmers or upper servants’.

Of course there was a lot of blatant class snobbery coming from the landed gentry when they ever mentioned lowly curates like Thomas Grisdale. One story I like was told by W. J. Conybeare in his excellent The Church in the Mountains published in the Edinburgh Review in 1853. Conybeare was concerned with Wales, Cumberland and Westmorland, all poor ‘mountainous’ areas. He says that a ‘gentleman who resides in Westmoreland’ had written:

As a rule the clergy here are of a low order, and rarely associate with the gentry. In our own village, for instance, where the clergyman is not by any means a bad specimen, no servant is kept at his house, and several of his sons have been brought up to handicraft trades. We are very good friends, but he could not visit at my house. . . . His sister was waiting-maid to a friend of ours.

Conybeare adds wryly:

As an illustration of these statements, it may be worthwhile to mention that the writer of these pages, some years ago, when in a boat on one of the Cumberland lakes, observed upon the road which ran along the shore, a man and woman ride by on the same horse, the man in front, the woman behind. “There goes our priest and his wife,” said the boatman. On landing, soon after, the worthy couple were seen making hay together in a small field which the clergyman farmed.

Good on them!

Matterdale

Matterdale

Conybeare mentions another friend he had consulted ‘who was well acquainted with the diocese of Carlisle who estimated ‘the proportion of the hill-clergy in Westmoreland and Cumberland, who are “more or less intoxicated at one time or another, at parties, fairs, or markets “as one-sixth of the whole number.’ Another informant wrote that ‘several of the clergy’ in his neighbourhood were ‘notorious drunkards’.

‘The social position held by the clergy may be inferred from the above statements’, says Conybeare, adding that their status was in fact ‘precisely the same with that assigned to their predecessors by Mr. Macaulay’.

Conybeare goes to great length to explain the social, economic and political causes of this situation as well as to show how the prevailing view was unfair. I will quote just a little of this fine work:

We have said that Mr. Macaulay’s account of the rural Clergy of the reign of Charles II. would apply almost verbatim to the Mountain Clergy of the present century (ed. the nineteenth). We may add that this condition of things originates in the same cause which he assigns for it; namely, the inadequacy of the parochial endowments. But here we must guard against misconception.

Let it not for a moment be supposed that we consider poverty a degradation to the preacher of the Gospel. God forbid that wealth should be necessary to the ministry of a religion which made the poor of this world rich in faith — a religion whose apostles were Galilean fishermen. A clergy may be very ill-endowed, and yet, by a judicious system of organisation and discipline, and by a proper provision for its education, it may command not only the love of the poor, but the respect of the rich. The efficiency of the Scotch establishment during the last century and a half is a decisive proof of this.

But if we have a clergy taken from the poorer classes of society, and left in indigence, without education, without superintendence, without organisation, and without discipline, then it will inevitably become despised and despicable.  Not that a priesthood of vulgar paupers is in reality more contemptible than a hierarchy of well-bred Sybarites; for, in the sight of God, Leo X. was perhaps more despicable than Tetzel; but that the cultivated Epicurean will be able to veil his faults under a more decent disguise.

The careless and undevout members of an uneducated peasant clergy will retain the low tastes and coarse vices of the class from which they sprang; and the zealous (who at the best must be a minority) will disgust their more intelligent parishioners by an illiterate fanaticism. These may be followed by the ignorant, but will be ridiculed by the educated; those will be deservedly despised by rich and poor alike.

When men who are appointed by the State to be the religious guides and examples of the people thus forfeit both the respect of the wise and the esteem of the good, the object of their mission is defeated.

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church

I have no idea what type of curate or man Thomas Grisdale was; he was, as I have said, the curate of mountainous Matterdale for fifty-two years, throughout Charles II’s reign and beyond. I do hope he occasionally got on a horse with his wife Elizabeth Grisdale (nee Noble), my own 6th great grandmother, and made a little hay. He may have liked the odd beer or two too.

But although Thomas was in all likelihood looked down on by the local gentry, it seems he was well regarded by his parishioners. Not only was he their curate for fifty-two years but somewhat after his death we find testimony to the fact that the people of Matterdale could and always had chosen their curates and were very happy with them.  The testimony in question was written by the ‘inhabitants’ of Matterdale between 1735 and 1747 to Bishop Fleming of Carlisle:

To the Right Reverend Father in God George Lord Bishop of Carlisle the Petition of the Inhabitants of the Chappelrie of Matterdale humbly showeth  That the Chappel of Matterdale is now Vacant that when the Revd Mr. Woof left us before he resigned the place some of the Inhabitants of our Chappelry waited on our Rector the Reverend Mr. Law at his house at Graystock and acquainted him that Mr. William Todhunter of Dacre would be very acceptable to us and hoped he would give him his nomination.

Greystoke Rectory

Greystoke Rectory

He told us he had given his Consent to the Rev. Mr. Rumney’s son Leonard as soon as Mr. Woof had resigned the place.  We drew a writing and with one consent subscribed it to certifie him we were agreed to Recomend to his approbation Mr. William Todhunter and requested of him to give his nomination as his Predecessor had always done to the Person we requested and we told him we believ’d we had a Right and that it was our Duty so to do, He Replied if we had any Right he did not want nor would he have it and that your Lordship was the Properest Judge and to you my Lord, we would refer it.

Wherefore my Lord we Begg you would give us leave to lay our case before you as Briefly as we can and that Mr. Grisdale was the Person we requested his nomination which is the antientest we believe that is at Rose Castle will testefie and Mr. Clerk that succeeded him was the Person the Inhabitants requested and Mr. Taylor that succeeded him was the Person we requested his Father yet Living can testefie and Mr. Walker that succeeded him is at this time Mr. Atkinson’s Curate at Kirkby Thore and will testefie he was the man we requested and Mr. Atkinson that succeeded him was the man we chose and his Lordship your Lordship’s predecessor put him in when our Chappel had been long vacant and Mr. Woof was the man the Major part of the Inhabitants subscribed with If the Revd Mr. Law can say this is not the very truth we’ll say no more and with submission, the reason why we should have something to say we think is because we endowed the Chappel with the salrie  my Lord our Ancestours raised forty pounds (a great sum for so poor a Chappelry when money was so scarce) and lent it at two shillings i’th pound and when the Interest of Money lowered that it would not make four pounds a year and when it was in danger of being lost we withdrew the money and agreed to pay two shillings sixpence out of every eight shillings rent Tenement which makes about four pounds ten shillings and which with our little Glebe and surplice dues is the salary at this day and some or other is and has been all ways willing to accept of it and we hope we may say we have not one man that had any Blemish in his life and conversation and that the service of Almighty God has been performed with as much Decencie and as good Order as in any Chappel in your Lordship’s Diocess, so we desire your Lordship would be pleased to take the matter into Consideration and do sincerely assure you my Lord that your Judgment and determination shall be final and for ever put an end to our onnhappy janglings and we shall still continue to pray.

Rose Castle, the residence of the Bishops's of Carlisle

Rose Castle, the residence of the Bishops’s of Carlisle

The issue involved here was quite simple: the inhabitants of the chapelry of Matterdale had always chosen their own priest, because, as they say, they paid for him. ‘Mr. Grisdale’, i.e. Thomas Grisdale, ‘was the person we requested, his nomination is the antcientes (ancientest) we believe that is at Rose Castle (the residence of the Bishop’s of Carlisle) will testifie.’ They also chose or requested all Thomas Grisdale’s successors until Mr. Woof and say how this can be proved. Their curates had never been imposed on them against their will – until now.

Now the Revd Mr. Law, the rector of Greystoke, Matterdale’s mother church, was going to impose his own choice: Leonard Rumney, the son of a local vicar who was no doubt a friend of Mr. Law. Regarding the parishioners’ right to choose their own curate the Revd Law had replied that even if they had this right ‘he did not want nor would he have it’. He didn’t give a damn; he’d have his own man.

Actually neither Leonard Rumney nor William Todhunter was appointed.

Greystoke Church

Greystoke Church

Returning to the reason the parishioners had this right, they rightly said because their ancestors had endowed the Chappel with forty pounds to pay the curate’s salary, even though this was a ‘great sum for so poor a Chappelry when money was so scarce’. When this endowment had proved insufficient they had changed to paying yearly ‘two shillings sixpence out of every eight shillings rent Tenement which makes about four pounds ten shillings’ – there being thirty-six tenements of this value in Matterdale as we shall see.

Regarding the character and performance of the curates the people of Matterdale had chosen from Mr. Grisdale onwards, the Revd. J. Whitseside had this to say in his excellent 1901 article Matterdale Church and School:

We have been accustomed in late years to some severe strictures on the morals and manners of the old dale priests from critics who too hastily assumed that what was true of a few might be asserted of many. It is, therefore, refreshing to have the testimony of the people of Matterdale — “We have not had one man that had any blemish in his life and conversation.” The whole document is most honourable to the dalesmen, testifying both to their sturdy native independence and their willingness to submit to constituted authority in the Church.

I wrote about the origins of Matterdale church in a recent article (see here). What is abundantly clear is that from the very start in about 1566 when the first ‘chapelry of ease’ was allowed in Matterdale and certainly from 1580 when the chapel got full parochial rights i.e. the right to perform weddings, baptisms and burials, the inhabitants of the valley had always had to pay not only for the curate but for the church building as well.

A document that was in the church safe in Matterdale dated 1699 reads as below. Please do note that all the YEs and YTs for ‘the’ and ‘that’ do not mean people actually talked like this. The Y was just a letter signifying the sound TH; contrary to general opinion nobody ever said ‘Ye Olde Tavern’ or the like.

Whereas about ye eight year of Queen Elizabeth (1566) the Inhabitants of Matterdale did petition for having a church att ye said Matterdale which was granted in Bishop Best his time (1561-1570) with a pviso that they should maintain a Currate att it which ye said Inhabitants did pmise and Ingage to doe.

And in order thereto did make up about fforty pounds Church stock amongst them that ye use thereof might goe to ye Currate which was then Lent forth att two shillings the pound or more. But in ye time of King James the First (1603- 1625) when money came to a Lower use the said Inhabitants were forced to take ye said Church stock into their own hands And pay to ye Currate two shillings which hath so continued ever since.

Now we considering that often part of ye said Church stock is lost and we have it to make up again And often times we have much cost and trouble with sueing for yt which is in dainger to be lost And also when a Tenant dyes ye widow and younger children hath it to pay to ye heir forth of ye deceased man’s goodds And therefore we having ye said Church stock in our own hands doe agree and Covenant to lay it upon our own Lands so that every Tenement of eight shillings Rent shall yearly pay to ye Currate two shillings sixpence of Current English money as a known due forth of ye land accordingly, and to ye first Covenent.

And so every one yt hath more or less rent after yt rate and to continue from ansestor to heirs accordingly as is hereafter subscribed …. doe hereby bind ourselves our heires executors successors on our land as wittnesse our hands and sealls In ye eleavent year of ye Reigne of King William ye third over England &c. and in ye year of our Lord God 1699.

This document includes the signatures of thirty-six inhabitants and how much each is paying towards the upkeep of the curate Thomas Grisdale. It is interesting to note that seven of these thirty-six are other members of the Matterdale Grisdale clan.

James  the first, another disastrous king

James the first, another disastrous king

So since King James’ time, the initial forty pound endowment had been replaced by the two shillings and sixpence paid by each of the thirty six eligible tenement holders. And it seems that this was usually done. The Rev. J. Whiteside quotes the former president of the Cumberland and Westmorland antiquarian and archaeological society as saying: ‘The origin of these chapelries requires to be made known: their salaries are charges on the land, but the deeds creating the charges are at this date rarely forthcoming, and in some places the land owners, who are liable to them, are beginning to repudiate the payment on the ground that they are voluntary payments, were abolished with church-rates or other frivolous and shabby pretence.’ ‘‘A repudiation, says Whiteside, ‘which has not taken root in Matterdale’.

In summary, since 1566 or slightly thereafter, the inhabitants of Matterdale had not only paid the ‘priest wage’ as it was known but also chosen him themselves, subject to the approval of both the Rector of Greystoke and the Bishop of Carlisle – that is until the Revd Mr. Law came along.

In the seventeenth century the average rural priest-wage was very low indeed, generally between five and ten pounds per annum. As we have seen, at best Thomas Grisdale’s wage would have been four pounds ten shillings. How did he and his predecessors and followers survive? Here we have to look at what is called the parish ‘Glebe Terrier’ or just ‘Terrier’.

A seventeenth century Glebe Terrier

A seventeenth century Glebe Terrier

A glebe terrier is a term specific to the Church of England. It is a document, usually a written survey or inventory, which gives details of glebe, lands and property in the parish owned by the Church of England and held by a clergyman as part of the endowment of his benefice, and which provided the means by which the incumbent (rector, vicar or perpetual curate) could support himself and his church. Typically, glebe would comprise the vicarage or rectory, fields and the church building itself, its contents and its graveyard… “Terrier” is derived from the Latin terra, “earth”.

The glebe terrier would be drawn up at the time of each visitation, an official visit usually by the archdeacon. The Archdeacon would visit each parish annually, and the bishop visited outlying parts of his diocese every few years to maintain ecclesiastical authority and conduct confirmations.

Each church was entitled to a house and glebe. The glebe lands were either cultivated by the clergyman himself, or by tenants to whom he leased the land. In those cases where the parsonage was not well-endowed with glebe, the clergyman’s main source of income would come from the tithes.

In 1704, when Thomas Grisdale was still curate, such a Terrier was made of Matterdale by the Rector of Greystoke, the summary reads:

Imprimis. One dwelling house with a byer and a barn (sixteen yards in length) to be built at the charges of the hamlet, when they fall; the repair onely at the Charge of the Curate. Item, One Close by estimation two Acres: Item, the Chapple yard ; by estimation half an acre. The curate has right of common (and liberty to get peats and turff) both within the liberties of Weathermealock and Matterdale. Every tenement (whereof there are 36 in number) pays 2s 6d except one cottage called Park Gate which pays 2s onely. Total 4I 9s 6d. For every marriage is 1s 6d whereof !s is due to the rector of Graystock and 6d to the Curate.

Notice the thirty-six tenements in Matterdale (of a certain standing and value), the farmer of each one except one having to still pay the 2s 6d each year, thus giving the total of 4l 9s 6d. In addition we see that the curate might earn a bit more from marriages (though twice as much went to the rector) and had rights of common including getting peat and turf to burn in his ‘dwelling house with a byer and a barn’.

A latter Terrier in 1776 gives slightly more details:

A perfect Terrier of all the Houses Lands Tenements and augmentations and yearly profits belonging to the Curacy of Matterdale in the parish of Graystock in the County of Cumberland and Diocese of Carlisle.

1.  A Thatch house Three lengths of Timber containing a Barn & a Byer with about two acres and a half of arable and meadow ground. Valued at about Two pound ten a year. This lays in Matterdale.

2. Two shillings and sixpence a Tenement which comes to Four pounds Ten shillings.

3. One fourth of an estate lying and being at Burton-in- Lonsdale in the parish of Thornton and County of York let at yearly rent of Ten pound. N.B. No Houses.

4. Brunt Sike Estate in the Hamlet of Howgill in the parish of Sedbecg and County of York containing a dwelling House Bam adjoining a Stable and Loft ov’ it with Twenty four acres of arable and Meadow Ground known by the names of Holme Little Close Hills — Gate House Close High Broom & Thoresgill Let at the yearly rent of fourteen pounds.

5. One half of Hause-foot Estate in the parish of Orton County of Westmorland with a Fine House with one half of the Barn Byer and Stables £7 l0s a year.

Given under our Hands this 4. day of June 1776.

William Wright Curate. Solomon Grisedale Chapelwarden.

Of course these other rents didn’t go to the curates of Matterdale.

Finally we should mention one other way the curate and his family could survive. The Rev. Whiteside tells us that the Matterdale curates were also entitled to ‘Whittlegate’. What is Whittlegate? In Bygone Cumberland and Westmorland, Daniel Scott wrote this in 1899:

bygone cumberlandThe old customs peculiar to Cumberland and Westmorland of “Whittlegate” and “Chapel Wage” have long since passed out of the list of obligations imposed, although the rector of Brougham might still, if he wished, claim whittlegate at Hornby Hall every Sunday. The parsons of the indifferently educated class already alluded to had to be content with correspondingly small stipends, which were eked out by the granting of a certain number of meals in the course of twelve months at each farm or other house above the rank of cottage, with, in some parishes, a suit of clothes, a couple of pairs of shoes, and a pair of clogs. Clarke gives the following explanation of the origin of the term: —

“Whittlegate meant two or three weeks’ victuals at each house, according to the ability of the inhabitants, which was settled among themselves; so that the minister could go his course as regularly as the sun, and complete it annually. Few houses having more knives than one or two, the pastor was often obliged to buy his own knife or ‘whittle.’ Sometimes it was bought for him by the chapel wardens. He marched from house to house with his ‘whittle,’ seeking ‘fresh fields and pastures new,’ and as master of the herd, he had the elbow chair at the table head, which was often made of part of a hollow ash tree — a kind of seat then common.

The reader at Wythburn had for his salary three pounds yearly, a hempen sark or shirt, a whittlegate, and a goosegate, or right to depasture a flock of geese on Helvellyn. A story is still (1789) told in Wythburn of a minister who had but two sermons which he preached in turn. The walls of the chapel were at that time unplastered, and the sermons were usually placed in a hole in the wall behind the pulpit. One Sunday, before the service began, some mischievous person pushed the sermons so far into the hole that they could not be got out with the hand. When the time came for the sermon, the priest tried in vain to get them out. He then turned to the congregation, and told them what had happened. He could touch them, he said, with his forefinger, but could not get his thumb in to grasp them; ‘ But, however,’ said he, ‘ I can read you a chapter out of Job that’s worth both of them put together!'”

So this I hope might give just a flavour of the life of the Matterdale curates in the seventeenth century and beyond.

Until the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1 the people of Matterdale didn’t have their own place of worship. If they wanted to or were obliged to go to church they had to trek all the way to the parish church in Greystoke, which, as we shall see, was not always easy.

‘The church of Matterdale is situated almost 1,000 feet above sea level, amid an amphitheatre of glorious hills, between the hamlets of Dockray and Matterdale End, in the ancient parish of Greystoke.’ Rev J. Whitelock, 1900.

In Matterdale church’s safe there was once a document written in 1699 which tells us of the first chapelry in Matterdale. It is a deed for the priest’s wages and includes the names of various citizens who pledge to contribute to these wages. This list includes numerous Grisdales; I will return to them on another occasion.  The deed starts as follows:

Whereas about ye eight year of Queen Elizabeth (1566) the Inhabitants of Matterdale did petition for having a church att ye said Matterdale which was granted in Bishop Best his time (1561-1570) with a pviso that they should maintain a Currate att it which ye said Inhabitants did pmise and Ingage to doe. And in order thereto did make up about fforty pounds Church stock amongst them that ye use thereof might goe to ye Currate which was then Lent forth att two shillings the pound or more…

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church

So the people of Matterdale were allowed to build their first chapel in 1566 or shortly thereafter. Nothing of the original structure remains. The problem was that whereas they were granted the right to hold holy services they did not have the full parochial rights to perform baptisms, marriages and burials. For those the people still had to trek to Greystoke.

By 1580 the people had made various other suits to the Bishop of Carlisle, by now Bishop John Meye, asking for these parochial rights. Bishop Meye eventually answered their appeal on 30 October 1580, I have added paragraph breaks for ease of reading:

To all Christian people to whom these presents shall come, John by the providence of God Bishop of Carlisle sendeth greeting in our Lord everlasting.

Know ye that at the reasonable suit of the whole inhabitants of the Chapelry of Matterdale, complaining that by reason that their parish Church of Graystock is so far distant from them, and from the annoyances of snow or other foul weather in the winter season in that fellish part, they be often very sore troubled with carrying the dead corpses dying within the said Chapelry and the infants there born unto burial and christening to their said parish church of Graystock, sometimes the weather being so foul and stormy that they be driven to let their dead bodies remain unburied longer time than is convenient, or else to abide that annoyance and danger in carrying them to burial as is not reasonable, and therefore have divers times made humble suit for remedy of their sad inconvenience and griefs;

matt winter

Matterdale

We the said Bishop, with the consent of Mr. Edward Hansbie bachelor of divinity and parson of the said church of Graystock, have given and granted unto all the inhabitants wch now be, or wch from henceforth shall be of the Chapelry aforesaid, full authority to cause to be baptised and christened in the chapel of Matterdale all and singular the infants which shall at any time hereafter be born within the said Chapelry, and all women who within the same shall bring forth any child, to go to the said chapel, and to have prayers said for her deliverance set forth by public authority, which commonly hath been called the purification of women; and that it may also be lawful unto the said inhabitants from time to time hereafter to cause their marriages to be celebrated within the same chapel; both the said persons which shall be married or the one of them being an inhabitant and dweller within the same chapelry; and such persons as shall from time to time happen to die or depart this world within the said Chapelry, to bury them within the same Chapel or Churchyard of the same: giving and granting unto the said Chapel the right to receive infants to baptism, women to be purified, persons to be married in the said Chapel, and all manner of persons dying within the said Chapelry, to whom the laws of this realm do not deny Christian burial, to be buried in the said Chapel or Churchyard;

Beseeching the Almighty, that as we do not doubt but that he hath already sanctified and hallowed the said Chapel and Churchyard through the prayers of the faithful made therein and the preaching of his most blessed word; so it may please him to grant unto all those which shall be baptised within the said Chapel, that they may receive remission of sins, perfect regeneration, and be made heirs of the kingdom of heaven; and to sanctify the marriage of all such as shall be married in the same Chapel; and to such as shall be buried in the said Chapel or Churchyard to grant resurrection unto life everlasting.

Greystoke Church

Greystoke Church

These in no wise to prejudice or hinder the right of the parish church of Graystock aforesaid, nor the estate of the said Mr. Hansbie now parson of the same, or his successors parsons there, in any the tithes, rights, obligations, duties, commodities, or emoluments, due unto the said parish Church or to the said Edward Hansbie his successors parsons of the same out of the said Chapelry, or the inhabitants of the same, or any of them from time to time there dwelling; the right interest and estate of which Church and the said Edward Hansbie and his successors parsons there, we do reserve and save by these presents.

Provided always that the inhabitants of the said Chapelry shall at their own proper costs and charges (as hath been before used) find and maintain a good and able priest to be resident within the said Chapelry, to minister divine service, and holy sacraments, as shall be allowed by the said Bishop and our successors; and shall provide unto him such convenient dwelling and habitation within the same Chapelry, and give him such wages for his relief and maintenance, to the worthyness of his estate and calling, as shall be thought meet and convenient unto us the said Bishop and our successors bishops of Carlisle; and shall also elect, with the consent of the minister there from time to time, an honest person to be the parish clerk of the same Chapel, and shall give to him convenient wages for keeping the said Church and things belonging to the same in good order, and doing other duties which pertain to the office of a clerk; and shall yearly elect and chuse by the consent of the said minister, the churchwardens and some sidesmen, to do the duties which unto their office doth belong; and shall repair, maintain and uphold the said Chapel and walls of the yard thereof, with all needful and convenient reparations whatsoever and shall from time to time see and provide that the said Chapel and Churchyard be used with that seemly and reverend manner as becometh the house and place dedicated to the service of God; and finally, shall from time to time, and at all times hereafter receive and obey all such injunctions, general and particular, which shall from thenceforth be given by us the said Bishop and our successors, for the service of God and good order to be maintained within the said Chapel and Chapelry.

Under which conditions we do dedicate the said Chapel and Churchyard to the use aforesaid and none otherwise.

In witness whereof we have to these presents put the seal of our bishoprick.

Given the 30th day of October in the year of our Lord God a thousand five hundred and eighty, and in the 23nd year of the reign of our most gracious sovereign Lady Elizabeth by the grace of God Queen of England France and Ireland, defender of the faith &c. and of our consecration the fourth.

matt snow 2

Snow in Matterdale

I particularly like the part which explains why the people of Matterdale wanted their own parish church and not just a simple chapel. It was because Greystoke was ‘so far distant from them, and from the annoyances of snow or other foul weather in the winter season in that fellish part, they be often very sore troubled with carrying the dead corpses dying within the said Chapelry and the infants there born unto burial and christening to their said parish church of Graystock, sometimes the weather being so foul and stormy that they be driven to let their dead bodies remain unburied longer time than is convenient, or else to abide that annoyance and danger in carrying them to burial as is not reasonable… ’

We don’t know the names of the very first Matterdale parish clerks who the people of the valley had promised to pay. One of the incumbents in the first half of the seventeenth century was an ‘old John Griesdall of Hollas, clerk’ who died in 1682. Two of this John’s nephews also became curates: John in Troutbeck in Westmorland (see here) and Thomas in Matterdale itself.

As the Rev J. Whiteside wrote in ‘Matterdale Church and School’ in 1900, which is the main source for this article: ‘One of the incumbents in the year 1703 had to make his humble apology to the rector of Greystoke.’ In the Greystoke register we find this entry:

1703 Memorand:— May 22nd Anno Dicto, came Mr. Thomas Grisedall Curate of Matterdale upon the account of publishing ye Bands of Marriage between Isaac Brownrigge and Bridgett Sutton both of Matterdale in the Chappell of Matterdale aforesayd and thereupon marrying them ye sayd Isaac and Bridget at ye sayd Chappell for which irregularity the sayd Mr. Grisedall both made his submission and gave his promise under his hand never to doe ye like againe.

Teste Thomas Grisedal. Matt: Soulby, John Hodgson.

Whiteside rightly asks: ‘Wherein did the irregularity consist?’ To which he answers:

Bishop Best about 1570… had granted a petition of the inhabitants  to cause their marriages from time to time hereafter to be celebrated within the same Chapel ” of Matterdale. It may be that, though the bishop gave permission, it had not been acted on, and the legality of Mr. Grisedal’s action had escaped notice. The registers show that Matt : Soulby was the curate, and John Hodgson the parish clerk of Greystoke.

This seems a very strange answer to me as the curates of Matterdale had been performing marriages in Matterdale church for over a hundred years.

In any case Thomas Grisdale, who had first been made a priest in 1666, remained curate of Matterdale until 1718 when he died. He had married widow Elizabeth Grisdale (nee Noble) in Greystoke Church in 1675; this Elizabeth is my own 6th great grandmother.

Rose Castle, the residence of the Bishops of Carlisle

Rose Castle, the residence of the Bishops’s of Carlisle

 

 

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.

 

In the eighteenth century Old Testament names became popular in England. One family in which this was true was that of farmer Solomon Grisdale and his wife Mary Grisdale (they were ‘cousins’). After their marriage in Matterdale Church in 1763 they had twelve children, including sons with the Biblical names Joseph, Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Benjamin. I have written much about Levi (see here and here), something of daughter Jane (see here) and a little about Solomon’s grandson Solomon who took the stage-name Walter and became a famous actor (see here). I’d now like to turn our attention to son Simeon and his son and grandson, both called Simeon too. It is a story of bankruptcy, bigamy and battles. In order not to make the story excessively long I will split it into three parts. This first part concerns the little we know about Solomon’s son Simeon, who I will call Simeon 1 when necessary to avoid confusion.

Solomon Grisdale was born in Matterdale in 1739, the son of farmer Jonathan Grisdale and Mary Jackson, and the grandson of Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray (my own 5th great grandparents). Like his father and grandfather Solomon was a farmer. Where exactly in Matterdale he first farmed isn’t known, but after his marriage in 1763 (at the latest by 1776) the family were farming at ‘Hill’. Now this is a farm lying between Great Mell Fell and Little Mell Fell. It lies geographically in Matterdale but is administratively in the parish of Watermillock. The family probably moved for a short time to nearby Patterdale, because it was here in 1780 that son Simeon was born and baptized. Shortly thereafter they moved to Greystoke parish where the rest of the children were born, including the later to be famous Levi in 1783.

patterdale-birds-eye

Patterdale where Simeon was born

But the family was too big to be supported from a small Cumberland farm and thus most of Solomon and Mary’s children had to move away and find their own way in life. Levi went to London and joined the army; Thomas went to Kent (after a time in the army I think); sister Jane to Arundel in Sussex; while Joseph went to London.

All Saints Church in Houghton

All Saints Church in Houghton

Sometime around the turn of the nineteenth century Simeon somehow found his way to bucolic Hampshire. He married local girl Ruth Russell in the church of All Saints in the Hampshire village of Houghton in July 1805. It’s clear that Ruth was already pregnant when she married Simeon because their son, also christened Simeon, was born in Houghton in November of the same year, to be followed three years later by a daughter Mary, also born in Houghton.

Nothing more is heard of the family for some time. However we do know what Simeon did: he became a ‘Baker and Chandler Shopkeeper’ in the village. The Victoria County History described the village thus in 1908:

The parish of Houghton, lying south-west of Stock-bridge and north-west of King’s Somborne, is detached from the other parishes of Buddlesgate Hundred. It comprises 33 acres of land covered by water and 2,639 acres of land, which rises generally from south-east to north-west from the low-lying country near the River Test, which flows along the east of the parish to the downland, which stretches away north to Houghton Down, behind which rises Danebury Hill in Nether Wallop parish…

The main village street, curving west for a few yards at the north end of the village, turns sharply north and runs uphill past Houghton Lodge, the residence of Colonel E. St. John Daubney, which lies back from the road on the east, on to North Houghton.

We can perhaps visualize Simeon and Ruth baking bread in the early hours of each day and working in their shop while the two children were at school or playing in the nearby fields.

In Fleet Prison

In Fleet Prison

And so life went on. But probably by the early 1820s, when his children were reaching adulthood, Simeon’s business in Houghton was not going well and it was either closed or sold. We can imply from later events that Simeon had debts although he wasn’t declared bankrupt. Around this time, either with or without his family, Simeon moved to ‘London’ or better said to the still rural area of Holloway/Hornsey/Crouch End in the parish of Islington. He became an ‘Ostler’, which is someone who looks after horses in an inn, usually a coaching-inn. He lived in Duval’s Lane near Crouch End, to which I will return. But it seems that Simeon couldn’t pay off his creditors and was thrown into debtor’s prison – most probably into the notorious Fleet Prison.

How long Simeon was in prison I don’t know, but in 1825 he petitioned the ‘Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors and Office of the Commissioners of Bankrupts and successors’ to be released. This Court had been established by the Insolvent Debtors (England) Act in 1813, during the reign of King George III. ‘It was enacted in response to the demands on the prison system imposed by the numbers of those being incarcerated for debt, and some concern for their plight. The Act created a new Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors that remained in existence until 1861, under the jurisdiction of a newly appointed Commissioner. Those imprisoned for debt could apply to the court to be released – unless they were in trade or guilty of fraudulent or other dishonest behaviour – by reaching an agreement with their creditors that ensured a fair distribution of their present and future assets.’

Simeon’s petition was to be heard on 11 April 1825 at ‘Nine o’clock of the Forenoon’ at the Court which resided in Portugal Street in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields. Simeon was said to be ‘formally of Houghton, Hampshire. Baker and Chandler Shopkeeper, and later of Holloway, Middlesex. Ostler’.

A wonderful description of this Court which would decide Simeon’s fate was written by Charles Dickens in Pickwick Papers in 1837. I think it worth quoting in full:

In a lofty room, ill-lighted and worse ventilated, situated in Portugal Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, there sit nearly the whole year round, one, two, three, or four gentlemen in wigs, as the case may be, with little writing-desks before them, constructed after the fashion of those used by the judges of the land, barring the French polish. There is a box of barristers on their right hand; there is an enclosure of insolvent debtors on their left; and there is an inclined plane of most especially dirty faces in their front. These gentlemen are the Commissioners of the Insolvent Court, and the place in which they sit, is the Insolvent Court itself.

It is, and has been, time out of mind, the remarkable fate of this court to be, somehow or other, held and understood, by the general consent of all the destitute shabby-genteel people in London, as their common resort, and place of daily refuge. It is always full. The steams of beer and spirits perpetually ascend to the ceiling, and, being condensed by the heat, roll down the walls like rain; there are more old suits of clothes in it at one time, than will be offered for sale in all Houndsditch in a twelvemonth; more unwashed skins and grizzly beards than all the pumps and shaving-shops between Tyburn and Whitechapel could render decent, between sunrise and sunset.

Lincoln's Inn Fields in the 1800s

Lincoln’s Inn Fields in the 1800s

It must not be supposed that any of these people have the least shadow of business in, or the remotest connection with, the place they so indefatigably attend. If they had, it would be no matter of surprise, and the singularity of the thing would cease. Some of them sleep during the greater part of the sitting; others carry small portable dinners wrapped in pocket-handkerchiefs or  sticking out of their worn-out pockets, and munch and listen with equal relish; but no one among them was ever known to have the slightest personal interest in any case that was ever brought forward. Whatever they do, there they sit from the first moment to the last. When it is heavy, rainy weather, they all come in, wet through; and at such times the vapours of the court are like those of a fungus-pit.

A casual visitor might suppose this place to be a temple dedicated to the Genius of Seediness. There is not a messenger or process-server attached to it, who wears a coat that was made for him; not a tolerably fresh, or wholesome-looking man in the whole establishment, except a little white-headed apple-faced tipstaff, and even he, like an ill-conditioned cherry preserved in brandy, seems to have artificially dried and withered up into a state of preservation to which he can lay no natural claim. The very barristers’ wigs are ill-powdered, and their curls lack crispness.

pickwickBut the attorneys, who sit at a large bare table below the commissioners, are, after all, the greatest curiosities. The professional establishment of the more opulent of these gentlemen, consists of a blue bag and a boy; generally a youth of the Jewish persuasion. They have no fixed offices, their legal business being transacted in the parlours of public-houses, or the yards of prisons, whither they repair in crowds, and canvass for customers after the manner of omnibus cads. They are of a greasy and mildewed appearance; and if they can be said to have any vices at all, perhaps drinking and cheating are the most conspicuous among them. Their residences are usually on the outskirts of ‘the Rules,’ chiefly lying within a circle of one mile from the obelisk in St. George’s Fields. Their looks are not prepossessing, and their manners are peculiar.

Mr. Solomon Pell, one of this learned body, was a fat, flabby, pale man, in a surtout which looked green one minute, and brown the next, with a velvet collar of the same chameleon tints. His forehead was narrow, his face wide, his head large, and his nose all on one side, as if Nature, indignant with the propensities she observed in him in his birth, had given it an angry tweak which it had never recovered. Being short-necked and asthmatic, however, he respired principally through this feature; so, perhaps, what it wanted in ornament, it made up in usefulness.

‘I’m sure to bring him through it,’ said Mr. Pell.

‘Are you, though?’ replied the person to whom the assurance was pledged.

‘Certain sure,’ replied Pell; ‘but if he’d gone to any irregular practitioner, mind you, I wouldn’t have answered for the consequences.’

‘Ah!’ said the other, with open mouth.

‘No, that I wouldn’t,’ said Mr. Pell; and he pursed up his lips, frowned, and shook his head mysteriously.

Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers, 1837

We can imply that Simeon was released from prison by the court on April 11 but he no doubt still had debts to pay. It’s possible that Simeon had become so weak from his time in debtors’ prison or he may have caught an illness there, whatever the case only a couple of weeks after his release Simeon died and was buried in Islington on 7 June 1825, aged just forty-four. At the time of his death Simeon was said to reside at Duval’s Lane in Islington. Now here I could leave the story and you can if you wish, but I think it interesting to explore Duval’s Road a bit more and suggest where exactly Simeon had worked as an Ostler before being thrown into prison for debt.

Duval’s Lane (which is now Hornsey Road) was named after a French-born ‘gentleman highwayman’ called Claude Du Val (1643-1670). ‘In a map of the suburbs of London in 1823, “Duval’s Lane” is shown as running from Lower Holloway towards Crouch End, with scarcely a house on either side. A small and crooked road, marked Hem Lane, with “Duval’s House” at the corner, leads also through fields towards “Hornsey Wood House,” and so into the Green Lanes—all being open country. The now populous district of Crouch End appears here as a small group of private residences. Between the “Wood House” and Crouch End is Stroud Green, around which are five or six rustic cottages. On the other side of the “Wood House” is the “Sluice House,” where privileged persons and customers of “mine host” went to fish in the New River and to sup upon eels, for which that place was famous, as stated above. Upper Holloway itself figures in this map as a very small collection of houses belonging apparently to private residents.’

Claude Duvall was born in Domfront, Orne, Normandy in 1643 to a noble family stripped of title and land. His origin and parentage are in dispute. He did however have a brother Daniel Du Val. At the age of 14 he was sent to Paris where he worked as a domestic servant. He later became a stable boy for a group of English royalists and moved to England in the time of the English Restoration as a footman of the Duke of Richmond (possibly a relation) and rented a house in Wokingham.

The legend goes that before long Du Val became a successful highwayman who robbed the passing stagecoaches in the roads to London, especially Holloway between Highgate and Islington. However, unlike most other brigands, he distinguished himself with rather gentlemanly behaviour and fashionable clothes. However, there is no valid historical source for this assertion. He reputedly never used violence. One of his victims was Squire Roper, Master of the Royal Buckhounds, whom he relieved of 50 guineas and tied to a tree. There are many tales about Du Val. One particularly famous one — placed in more than one location and later published by William Pope — claims that he took only a part of his potential loot from a gentleman when his wife agreed to dance the “courante” with him in the wayside, a scene immortalised by William Powell Frith in his 1860 painting Claude Du Val.

Frith's painting of Duval

Frith’s painting of Duval

If his intention was to deter pursuit by his non-threatening behaviour, he did not totally succeed. After the authorities promised a large reward, he fled to France for some time but returned a few months later. Shortly afterwards, he is said to have been arrested in the Hole-in-the-Wall tavern in London’s Chandos Street, Covent Garden. However, there is no record of this in valid historical sources. His ‘life’, as described here, is a typical example of entertaining stories invented for various reasons over centuries transmuting into so-called historical fact. (The ‘story’ of Dick Turpin is another example where the accepted story is very different from the actual historical record.)

On 17 January 1670, judge Sir William Morton found him guilty of six robberies (others remained unproven) and sentenced him to death. Despite many attempts to intercede, the king did not pardon him and he was executed on 21 January at Tyburn. When his body was cut down and exhibited in Tangier Tavern… it drew a large crowd. It is traditionally thought Du Val was buried under the centre aisle of the church of St Paul’s, Covent Garden; the parish register notes the burial of a “Peter Du Val” in January 1670.

A memorial at the church reads:

Here lies DuVall: Reder, if male thou art,

Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.

Much havoc has he made of both; for all

Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall

The second Conqueror of the Norman race,

Knights to his arm did yield, and ladies to his face.

Old Tyburn’s glory; England’s illustrious Thief,

Du Vall, the ladies’ joy; Du Vall, the ladies’ grief.

An Ostler

An Ostler

Good stuff, but returning to Simeon, can we be a little more precise as to where he might have worked as an Ostler? I think we can. Ostlers, as I have said, looked after the horses in inns, usually in coaching-inns. In 1817 in Picturesque rides and walks,: With excursions by water, thirty miles round the British metropolis; illustrated in a series of engravings, coloured after … country within the compass of that circle ‘, J Hassell wrote:

The Hornsey coaches, of course, pass through Crouch End, where there is a respectable house of accommodation, the King’s Arms. From thence you take the first turning to the left that leads up Duval’s Lane, a pleasant and well-inhabited spot, to the metropolis, by the high road through Islington.

It is quite possible (but by no means certain) that Simeon Grisdale was an Ostler at the King’s Arms in Crouch End. The inn’s successor (now called the King’s Head) still exists and was in fact my ‘local’ for many years when I lived just off ‘’Duval’s Lane’!

Finally, Holloway and Hornsey were frequented by another well-known highwayman: Dick Turpin. Walter Thornby wrote in Old and New London in the 1870s:

Hornsey Road, which in Camden’s time was a “sloughy lane” to Whetstone, by way of Crouch End, seventy years ago [in 1802] had only three houses, and no side paths, and was impassable for carriages.

It was formerly called Devil’s, or Du Val’s, Lane, and further back still Tollington Lane. There formerly stood on the east side of this road, near the junction with the Seven Sisters’ Road, an old wooden moated house, called “The Devil’s House,” but really the site of old Tollington House.

Dick Turpin jumping Hornsey Gate

Dick Turpin jumping Hornsey Gate

Tradition fixed this lonely place as the retreat of Duval, the famous French highwayman in the reign of Charles II. After he was hung in 1669, he lay in state at a low tavern in St. Giles’s, and was buried in the middle aisle of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, by torchlight.

The tradition is evidently erroneous, as the Devil’s House in Devil’s Lane is mentioned in a survey of Highbury taken in 1611 (James I.) Duval may, however, have affected the neighbourhood, as near a great northern road.

The moat used to be crossed by a bridge, and the house in 1767 was a public-house, where Londoners went to fish, and enjoy hot loaves, and milk fresh from the cow. In 1737, after Turpin had shot one of his pursuers near a cave which he haunted in Epping Forest, he seems to have taken to stopping coaches and chaises at Holloway, and in the back lanes round Islington.

A gentleman telling him audaciously he had reigned long, Dick replied gaily, “Tis, no matter for that, I’m not afraid of being taken by you; so don’t stand hesitating, but stump up the cole.” Nevertheless, the gallows came at last to Dick.

And here I will leave the story of the first Simeon Grisdale. Whether his family had come with him to London or not his children were soon back in Hampshire. I will take up their story in part 2.

Holloway/Hornsey Area in 1819

Holloway/Hornsey Area in 1819

 

Thomas Grisdale was born in 1639, the son of Symund Grisdale and his first wife Jane. The family lived and farmed in Borrowscale in Matterdale. In 1664 Thomas married Dorothy Rakestreye in Matterdale church. Many people all over the world think that Thomas and Dorothy are their distant ancestors. They are, I’m afraid to say, most likely wrong. As I will show, father Symund together with Thomas and Dorothy and their children moved away from Matterdale never to return. While I have known this for some years, until now I have never been able to find out what happened to Thomas’s many children. Here I can just partly do so. In addition, I’ll show who actually were the Matterdale ancestors of those who have Thomas and Dorothy in their family trees.

Norman Cragg Farm, Hutton Roof, Cumberland

Norman Crag Farm, Hutton Roof, Cumberland

Thomas Grisdale married twenty-three year-old Watermillock-born Dorothy Rakestreye on 25 April 1664 in Matterdale church. Several children soon followed: Ann 1665, Thomas 1667, Jane 1669, Margaret 1673-1673, Solomon 1674, Dorothy 1677, Jonathan 1690, Charles 1682 and Joseph 1685, The parish records give the place of birth of all these children as Borrowscale (with various spellings). But sometime soon after the baptism of Joseph in November 1685 the family moved away. In fact they moved north to live, and probably farm, in Norman Crag in Hutton Roof in the parish of Greystoke. In Norman Crag Thomas and Dorothy had another child who they baptized Samuel in Greystoke church in 1688.

Father Symund Grisdale, said to be “now of Ormand Crag late of Matterdale being about 86 years of age”, was buried in Greystoke on 24 December 1692. A few days later on the 9th of January 1693 (92 in the old calendar), Thomas and Dorothy’s daughter Dorothy was also buried there, she being “the daughter of Thomas Grisedale of Ormand Cragg in Hutton Roof”. Finally on 23 June 1696, Thomas’s wife Dorothy (nee Rakestreye) – “the wife of Thomas Grisedall of Normand Cragg” – was also buried in Greystoke. And that’s the last we hear of the family. Thomas seems to have still been alive in 1696, as were most of his children. Where did they go to next? Before I offer some thoughts on this mystery, let me return to the question of who were the actual ancestors of certain Matterdale Grisdale lines if they weren’t Thomas and Dorothy.

In the case of daughter Dorothy (born 1677), she clearly died at the age of 15 in 1693 in Hutton Roof. This definitively excludes her from being the Dorothy who married Lancelot Dawson in Matterdale in 1712. We know in fact that this Dorothy died in Matterdale in January 1775 said to have been “aged 85”, implying a birth in about 1692 – I would suggest in Watermillock.

Turning to Dorothy and Thomas’s other children. There is no evidence whatsoever that any of them ever returned to Matterdale. Those people who see Thomas and Dorothy Grisdale as being their ancestors do so, I believe, because they see son Joseph born in 1685 as being the only Joseph who could have married Jane Martin in Matterdale in November 1709. One person makes such a conjecture and others simply copy it. But there is another Joseph Grisdale who I believe is the person who married Jane Martin and from this couple countless Grisdale families descend, including many of those about whom I have written stories here. The Joseph who married Jane Martin was in all likelihood born the son of another Thomas Grisdale in Ulcatrow in 1687. Now the farm at Ulcatrow is geographically in Matterdale itself but lies within the parish of Watermillock, and that is where Joseph’s baptism took place and was recorded.

But again, what therefore became of Thomas and Dorothy Grisdale’s children, and for that matter Thomas himself? After years of finding no traces, I believe that I have found one pretty conclusively and another one quite probably.

Son Solomon (born in 1674 at Borrowscale) resurfaces in, of all places, Dublin in Ireland. In 1701 we find a Solomon Grisdale working as a mathematics teacher in Fishamble Street in Dublin.

John Whalley was a notorious quack and astrologer, who flourished in Dublin in the latter part of the 17th century. ‘He learned the trade of shoemaking; but found the compiling of prophetic almanacks, compounding quack medicines, and practising necromancy more profitable employments.’ In the English edition of Ptolemy’s astrological treatise, the Quadripartitum, Whalley recommended Solomon Grisdale and Jonathan Hill “masters of the mathematical school next door to the post office in Fishamble Street, Dublin”.

In A history of the City of Dublin by J. T. Gilbert published in 1854-59, we can also read: “Next to the Post office was a mathematical school kept in 1701 by Solomon Grisdale and Jonathan Hill.”

There can be little or no doubt that this Solomon Grisdale teaching mathematics in Dublin in 1701 was the son of Thomas and Dorothy Grisdale of Matterdale and, later, of Hutton Roof. Simply and literally there is no other Solomon it could be. How and when Solomon moved to Dublin, where and how he had gained a mathematical education, and whether he moved to Dublin alone or with some of his family remain mysteries.

Next we find three baptisms in Church of Ireland (COI, i.e. Protestant) churchs in Dublin: Mary  Grisdell baptized in 1696 in St. Michan’s COI church in 1696, the daughter of Thomas and Mary; then Hannah Greisdel, baptized in St. Mary’s (COI) in 1698, daughter of Thomas and Mary; then John Grasdell, also baptized in St. Mary’s in 1701, son of Thomas and Mary. Could this Thomas be the son of Thomas and Dorothy?

Then we find various interesting entries in the registers of the protestant church of St. Peter and St. Kevin in Dublin starting with the burial in December 1735 of an Ann Grisdell. But then we also see burials for various Grizells, Grissialls and Grisells with addresses all close to the church and indeed close to Fishamble Street: Mr Grisell from Lazy Hill (now Townsend Street) in 1713, Mrs Grisell of Brides Street in 1710, a child of Mr Grisell of Kevin Street in 1700, Cathren Grissial in 1745, John Grizell in 1733 and Thomas Grisell in 1734.

There are even more people called Grisell/Grizell in Dublin at this time (and it is interesting to note not later and not earlier): Joseph Grisell was buried in St Audeon’s (COI) in 1704, Ann Grizell was baptized in St Mark’s COI in 1736, the daughter of Alexander and Brackney. Ann Maria Grizell of Lazer’s Hill (the same place as Lazy Hill) was also baptized in St. Mark’s in 1738, the daughter of William and Mary. This William and Mary Grizell of Lazer’s Hill had three more children baptized in Dublin: William Grizell in 1742 at St. Mark’s, Ann in 1746 in Fleet Street church and Catherine in 1748 in St. Mark’s.

Could these various people called Grizell/Grisell be related to Dublin Solomon and Thomas Grisdale or even Ann Grisdell who died in 1735? It’s an avenue I think worth exploring.

It’s an ongoing research.

In the early nineteenth-century Hartsop Hall in Patterdale was owned by the Earl of Lonsdale but farmed by yeoman Robert Grisdale, whose family had made the short trip from Dockray in Matterdale to the Patterdale area about a hundred years before. The hall ‘is a very old building’ and ‘was once the seat of a distinguished family, whose arms at one time were to be seen above the doorway’. In 1903, the Rev W. P. Morris, the Rector of Patterdale, wrote: ‘The Lancasters of Sockbridge, one of whom was Provost of Queen’s College, Oxford, held the lands round about Hartsop in the early part of the seventeenth-century. Sir John Lowther acquired the property by marriage, and his descendant, the present Earl of Lonsdale, is now lord of the manor of Hartsop.’ Morris continues:

There is a right of way through the house. It was into this house that the notorious gang of burglars attempted to enter with the intention of murdering the whole family. These desperadoes were the terror not only of the neighbourhood of Patterdale, but also in and about Penrith.

Hartsop Hall, Patterdale

Hartsop Hall, Patterdale

No more information is given regarding the gang’s ‘intention of murdering the whole family’, but Morris adds: ‘Robert Grisdale, the then farmer, was one night riding home on horseback from Cockermouth when he was accosted by two of them when coming through Dockray. He at once perceived what their intentions were, but he showed them his pistol and galloped home in safety. It was not considered safe for any person to be out when darkness had set in. The gang consisted of four men, who went about wearing masks and carrying rifles and pistols.’

Morris briefly tells of how the gang was caught, but there is a much fuller and more colourful account given in 1894 by William Furness in his History of Penrith from the Earliest Record to the Present Time. I will quote it in full:

‘A notorious gang of highwaymen and burglars infested the neighbourhood in the early years of the century, and were the terror of the country people, especially those of the villages west and south of Penrith. The names were John Woof, (Woof was taught to thieve by his mother, who put him through a staircase window, at Melkinthorpe, to rob a poor old woman of a few shilling she had saved.) Melkinthorpe; William Armstrong, Eamont Bridge; John Little alias Sowerby, Clifton Dykes; and William Tweddle, Penrith. Woof was a small farmer, Armstrong a labourer, Sowerby a swill maker, and Tweedle a labourer. For eighteen months prior to their arrest scarcely a Tuesday passed but some person, returning from Penrith market, was robbed, and in some instances left bleeding and senseless on the highway, for these scoundrels were not deterred from employing any ruffianly violence to secure their object. They went so far, in one case at least, as to dig a grave beforehand for their intended victim. This was done in Bessy Ghyll Wood, near Thrimby, for a farmer, who was attending Shap fair, and was expected to have a good sum of money with him, as a result of his sales. They had stretched a wire across the road just high enough to drag a rider from his horse, and lay waiting for their victim. Not appearing about the time that they had calculated he should, they went off in search of him. In the meantime, the farmer had providentially remembered that he had a call to make at Little Strickland, and therefore turned off the main road at Shap Beck Gate, to gain his home and make his call on the way. He had barely made his call when he found the attentions of several men were being paid him. Guessing who these individuals were, he put spurs to his steed to widen the distance between himself and his pursuers, that he might have time to open the gates that lay between him and Sheriff Park farm house. The fold gate was gained, but his pursuers were almost upon him, when a lucky idea entered his head and was instantly acted upon. He called for help, which was at one replied to, and his pursuers stopped short; he opened the gate, roused the household, and was safe. Little did these desperadoes think that the farmer both called for help and replied to the call – but in a changed voice.

Burglaries also were of common occurrence, and were carried out by masked men armed with swords and pistols.

Dockray - where Robert's family came from and where he met the robbers

Dockray – where Robert’s family came from and where he met the robbers

Under these circumstances it was considered unsafe for any man, known to have money upon him, to be out after nightfall. The occupants of houses in lonely and secluded places feared to retire to rest, unless they had a good staff of servants and plenty of defensive weapons. Least the burglars should surprise them in the night. No wonder then that the whole district was terror stricken, and that the country people hurried home form market before darkness and robbers overtook them. A relative of the writer, living at Gowbarrow Hall, had been to the Market, at Penrith, and was returning, on horseback, in the evening, when he was accosted by four men, near to Tynefield, who demanded his “money or his life”. Finding one man at this horses bridle, one on each side of him, and one on the look-out, he quietly handed up his pocket book, and was allowed to proceed, after being asked if he knew them, and made a promise that he would not follow them nor prosecute them at the imminent peril of being shot. Thinking they might be disappointed with the contents of the book, as he had only part of his cash in it, and that they might pursue and murder him in the road home, he turned in at the Bee Hive Inn, Eamont Bridge, and ordered stabling for his horse for the night, and a bed for himself, and comfortably placed himself in a cosy seat in the chimney corner. He had not been long there when amongst those who dropped in he recognised one of his assailants, who not recognising the person in the corner seat, forthwith began to tell of the latest robbery by the brutal gang of masked robbers. This ruse was adopted by the whole four, at their various resorts, to throw off suspicion from themselves, and to get to know what the public opinion of the robbers was. A price was put upon the robbers, and advertisements proclaimed the reward for their apprehension, but to no effect.

The alarm in Penrith was so great that the inhabitants voluntarily revived the “Watch and Ward” to guard the town, as in the days of border warfare. A list of names was published of householders who were willing to act, and everyone on the list served in turn, except a few gentlemen and few women householders, who obtained substitutes at 2s.6d. per night. The watchers were four each night and their rendezvous was the Ship marketing room. Each watchman, while on duty, was supplied with a rattle, and armed with a bludgeon.

Old Penrith

Old Penrith

The detection and apprehension of the gang was due Mt T Robinson, of Kings Meaburn, who had been robbed by them and beaten on the highway, but recognised one of the gang as William Tweddle, who was immediately arrested, at Penrith, and lodged in the House of Correction. This member of the gang, fearing the consequences to his own neck, turned King’s evidence and disclosed the whole proceedings of the gang. This led to the immediate arrest of Woof and Armstrong, (As Armstrong was being taken to the House of Correction, he was seen by an acquaintance named Mary Bowerbank, who accosted him thus: “I’se sorry to see thee theer, Will.” He replied: “I’ll sune clear mesel, Mary, me lass.” This incident shows how little he was suspected by neighbours and acquaintances.) But Sowerby, hearing of Tweddle’s apprehension and confession, escaped to Newcastle, where he was subsequently arrested, passing himself off as John Smith. Sowerby, Woof, and Armstrong were committed to the Assizes at Carlisle held in August 1820.

The charges against these men were numerous, but the only one they were tried upon for “burglarously breaking and entering the house of John Wilson, of Soulby, in the parish of Dacre, about ten o’clock on the night of 22ndDecember, 1819, and taking therefrom five notes of the value of £1. Or one guinea each, and four webs of cloth, the property of the said John Wilson.” Mr Rain, who acted for the prosecution, having briefly stated the case to the jury, proceeded to call witnesses. The first was Margaret Wilson, who stated that she was “wife of John Wilson; lived at Soulby, a lone house about a quarter of the mile from all others. A man came to the house on the night of 22ndDecember, and asked his way to Mark’s; others came after, and made a noise’ this was about ten o’clock. She asked what they wanted, and they said the £100 which her husband had got form the bank at Penrith, the day before. She said it was not there; they said it was, and would have it, and if she did not immediately open the door they would blow her brains out. She begged of them not to be so rough; said her daughter would give them what money they had out of the window; they replied they would not have it that way, and if they did not open the door it would be worse for them, as they knew how to get in. Witness’s husband went down, thinking it would be better, as they could make no resistance. She then opened the door. When four men rushed in; three had on smock-frocks, the fourth had on a coloured overcoat; two had pistols, two swords, and they all wore masks, but could not say what kind they were. They then asked for money, and her daughter gave them her husband’s pocket book, which contained five notes. They asked for the £100; she said her husband had left it at Penrith. They asked for the keys, and got them, and her daughter Mary went upstairs with two of them, and the other drove the family up. Her daughter did not see any of them, as she was ill in bed, but the servant saw them. Two of them searched the drawers and took 20s. in silver; they then went into another room where a chest was standing locked. They ordered her to open it, or they would break it open. They then took out three webs of linen cloth, three of tow, and one of line; then they proceeded to the servant’s room, searched her box, and took out what silver there was – 7s, or 8s. They asked her what she had been doing thirty years, to have no more than that. They took her umbrella, and went downstairs, and asked for four bottles of rum. She said she had none, and then asked if she had no liquor; she said, perhaps a little gin, and went into the parlour to get it, when two men followed her. When she took out the gin, the two reached over and took two bottles of wine and another took the gin. They then went in to the kitchen and asked for ale; she went to bring a bottle, when one of them followed her, and took another. They then demanded bread and cheese, and got it. Previous to their departure, one of them presented a sword to her breast, and drew it across her neck, as an obligation of an oath that they had got all there was in the house, and said if she would give them more money they would give back the webs; but she again said they had got all that came from Penrith. One of them asked her daughter if she knew them; to which she replied, she did not know whether she had seen them before; and he added, ‘No! and I hope you never will again.’ One of them said, on going away: ‘Go night, Mrs Wilson; we know you well enough.’ They ordered the family no to leave the house till morning. She found that two of the doors were fastened also. They made endeavours to get out, but could not, and it was eight o’clock in the morning when they were let out by a servant man.”

William Tweddle was then called, and corroborated Mrs Wilson’s evidence as to the robbery, He further said he “had known Armstrong since they were boys, Little about two years, and Woof since a boy, but the last two or three years in particular. Remembered going to Wilson’s. Armstrong proposed it, as it was likely house to get money. Woof had no mask, but the rest had black ones. Woof had nothing to disguise his face with his coat. After leaving the Wilson’s they went to Little’s house, at Clifton Dykes, where, with the assistance of Little’s wife, the booty was equally divided. He gave the information after being apprehended for stopping Thomas Robinson, of King’s Meaburn.”

James Anderson, constable, Penrith, stated that “in consequence of the information he got from Tweedle, he went to the house where Woof got his meat, and in a box, which the mistress of the house said was his, he found some pieces of cloth, one of which was marked with the words ‘John Wilson: 47 yards.’”

Several other witnesses gave corroborative evidence, after which the judge summed up, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty. The judge, in sentencing them to death, held out no hope of mercy.

Carlisle English Gate and Old Gaol

Carlisle English Gate and Old Gaol

They occupied one cell, between the condemnation and execution, and their behaviour during these days was of a shocking character. The execution – the last at the old gaol – took place on Saturday September 2nd, 1820, at the south angle of the gaol. Even at the gallows they behaved unseemly, and one of them spat in the face of the executioner. (The librarian at the Free Library, Mr John Stuart, witnesses their execution, and distinctly remembers it, though he was but a lad at the time, and witnessed the scene from his father’s shoulder.)

Tweedle was transported to Van Diemen’s Land, and eventually joined a gang of desperados, and is said to have come to a violent end. (The story of Tweedle runs thus: Having got clear away into the bush he joined a gang of freebooters. Some time afterwards, in their leisure time, the gang were recounting their deeds which expatriated them from the old country, and Tweedle was called upon for his story. After recounting his exploits which his comrades, he told of their capture and the execution of three of this gang, whilst he escaped hanging, and was transported, because he turned King’s evidence. “Traitor,” cried the whole gang, and the captain said “since he had escaped his just deserts at home, and they could not tolerate a traitor amongst them, he must suffer the traitor’s doom.” Then the gang seized him and hanged him on the nearest tree.)

Bound For Van Diemen's Land

Bound For Van Diemen’s Land

Armstrong’s sister witnessed the execution, and afterwards begged the body of her brother, which she placed in a cart she had provided for the purpose, and brought it to Barton to bury. The malefactor’s body was exhibited, by the sister, at the public houses between Carlisle and Penrith, to anyone who would pay a penny for the sight, which hundreds did. It is said that when the body was buried in Barton Churchyard, a gap was made in the wall to let the procession into the churchyard, as it could not be permitted to enter by the gate. This act speaks of the superstition of the age.’

Did a Cumbrian soldier “save England and Europe” from Napoleon?

In the mid-nineteenth century in the small Cumbrian market town of Penrith there was a public house called the ‘General Lefebvre’. Locals jokingly referred to it as the ‘General Grisdale’, after its publican, an old ex-Sergeant Major called Levi Grisdale. It seems that Levi was quite a character, and we might well imagine how on cold Cumbrian winter nights he would regale his quests with tales of his exploits as a Hussar during the Napoleonic Wars. How he had captured the French General Lefebvre in Spain, as the British army were retreating towards Corunna, or even telling of how it was he, at the Battle of Waterloo, who had led the Prussians onto the field; a decisive event that had turned the course of the battle and, it is usually argued, led to Napoleon’s final defeat.

Scouts of the 10th Hussars During the Peninsular War – W B Wollen 1905

Numerous individual stories survive from these wars, written by participants from all sides: French, British, German and Spanish. Yet a great number of these come from the ‘officer classes’. Levi was not an officer and, as far as is known, he never wrote his own story. Be that as it may, using a variety of sources (not just from the British side) plus some detailed research in the archives, undertaken by myself and others, it is possible to reconstruct something his life. Levi spent 22 years in the army, fought in 32 engagements, including at the Battle of Waterloo, rose to be a Sergeant Major and was highly decorated. There is even an anonymous essay in the Hussars’ Regimental museum entitled: How Trooper Grisdale, 10th Hussars, Saved England and Europe! This suggested, possibly with a degree of hyperbole, that it was Levi who caused Napoleon to leave the Spanish Peninsular in disgust! But the events of the Peninsular War were decisive. Many years later Napoleon wrote:

That unfortunate war destroyed me … all my disasters are bound up in that knot.

I greatly enjoyed discovering a little about Levi. What follows is my version of this Cumbrian’s life and deeds. I hope you will enjoy it too!

Levi Grisdale was born in 1783, near Penrith in Cumberland’s Lake District. He came from a long line of small yeomen farmers. His father, Solomon, and his grandfather, Jonathon, had both been farmers. They were born in the nearby small hill village of Matterdale; where the Grisdale family had lived for hundreds of years. Although obviously a country boy, Levi somehow found his way to London, where on 26th March 1803, aged just 20, he enlisted for “unlimited service” as a private or ‘trooper’ in the 10th Light Dragoons, later to become ‘Hussars’ – an elite British cavalry regiment. How and why he enlisted in the army we do not know. His older brother Thomas was probably already a soldier based at the cavalry barracks on the outskirts of Canterbury, and maybe this contributed to Levi’s decision. We know nothing of Levi’s first years in the army; but in October 1808 he, with the 10th Hussars, embarked at Portsmouth for Spain.

A Charge of the 10th Hussars under Lord Paget

The regiment, having passed through Corunna, joined up with the now retreating British army, under its Commander-in-Chief, Sir John Moore, at Zamora on December 9, 1808. Under Sir John Slade, they became part of the army’s defensive rear-guard. They arrived at Sahagun in Spain on the 21st December – just in time to take part in the tail end of a successful action known as the Battle of Sahagun. Before the battle, Levi had been made a ‘coverer’ – a sort of bodyguard or ‘minder’ – for the fourteen year old Earl George Augustus Frederick Fitz-Clarence. It wasn’t unusual for wealthy and well-connected young men to become British officers at such a tender age, and Fitz-Clarence was certainly well-connected. He was the bastard son of the future King William IV and nephew of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV – who was the regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief.

During the battle Levi was wounded in the left ankle by a musket ball. It can’t have been too serious a wound because only a few days later he was to take part in another engagement. His exploits there were, in large part, responsible for us being able to reconstruct Levi’s story today. I will take some pains to explain what happened. The account I will present is based on numerous sources and on several eyewitness accounts; not just British, but also German, French and Spanish. There are some inconsistencies but when taken together they provide a coherent enough picture.

The British Retreat to Corunna 1808-1809

Despite the victory at Sahagun, the British army had continued its retreat towards Astorga and Corunna. But Napoleon had heard that the British were intent on a crossing of the River Esla, two miles from the Spanish town of Benavente. He sent his elite cavalry, the Chasseurs à cheval, commanded by one of his favourites, General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes, to cut them off and prevent the crossing. But due to dreadful weather they had been slowed down and they arrived just too late. Sir John Moore had already crossed the river on the 24th and departed with the bulk of the British army. He had, however, left a strong cavalry rearguard in the town of Benavente, and a small detachment was watching the river fords. Early on the morning of 29th December, British engineers destroyed the bridge at Castrogonzalo. When Lefebvre and his force of about 500 – 600 cavalry arrived, we are told that this was at nine in the morning, there seemed no way to cross, because the river “was swollen with rain.”

Lefebvre could see that “outlying pickets of the British cavalry were stationed along the Western bank of the River Esla.” He thought, wrongly as it turned out, that the few scouts to be seen were all that remained of the British at Benavente. Eventually he managed to find one place to ford the river and, according to one report, first sent across “a peasant mounted on a mare” to see find out what response there would be. Seeing there was none, Lefebvre crossed the river “with three strong squadrons of his Chasseurs and a small detachment of Mamelukes” – though not without great difficulty.

One account, drawing on a number of sources, nicely sums up what ensued:

The French forced the outlying pickets of the British cavalry back onto the inlaying picket commanded by Loftus Otway (18th Hussars). Otway charged, despite heavy odds, but was driven back for 2 miles towards the town of Benavente. In an area where their flanks were covered by walls, the British, now reinforced by a troop or squadron of the 3rd Hussars King’s German Legion, and commanded by Brigadier-General Stewart, counter-attacked and a confused mêlée ensued. The French, though temporarily driven back, had superior numbers and forced the British hussars to retreat once more, almost back to Benavente. Stewart knew he was drawing the French towards Paget and substantial numbers of British reserves. The French had gained the upper hand in the fight and were preparing to deliver a final charge when Lord Paget made a decisive intervention. He led the 10th Hussars with squadrons of the 18th in support, around the southern outskirts of Benavente. Paget managed to conceal his squadrons from French view until he could fall on their left flank. The British swords, often dulled by their iron scabbards, were very sharp on this occasion. An eyewitness stated that he saw the arms of French troopers cut off cleanly “like Berlin sausages.” Other French soldiers were killed by blows to the head, blows which divided the head down to the chin.

The French fought their way back to the River Esla and started to cross to its eastern bank – swimming with their horses. But many were caught by the pursuing British cavalry, and either killed or made prisoner. General Lefebvre, however, did not escape. His horse had been wounded and when it entered the river it refused to cross. He and some of his men were surrounded by the British cavalry under Lord Paget, which consisted of the 18th Hussars and half of the 3rd Hussars, King’s German Legion. During this encounter Lefebvre was wounded and taken prisoner, along with about seventy of his Chasseurs.

General Lefebvre is Captured at Benaventa. Painting by Dennis Dighton. Royal Collection, Windsor

So who was it that captured General Lefebvre? Some British sources claim simply that it was Private Grisdale. In Levi’s own regimental book we read that Lefebvre was pursued by the “Hussars” and “refusing to stop when overtaken, was cut across the head and made prisoner by Private Levi Grisdall (sic).” Other witnesses suggest that it was in fact a German 3rd Hussar, called Private Johann Bergmann, who captured the General, and that it was he who subsequently handed over his captive to Grisdale.

Any continuing mystery, however, seems to be cleared away by later witness statements made by Private Bergmann himself. His statement is corroborated by several other German Hussars who had taken part in the action, and by letters written by some German officers who were also present. Bergmann’s extensive testimony, taken at Osterholz in 1830 , is recorded in the third person. It states that there were:

three charges that day… at the third charge, or in reality the pursuit, he came upon the officer whom he made prisoner. He was one of the first in the pursuit, and as he came up with this officer, who rode close in the rear of the enemy, the officer made a thrust at him with a long straight sword. After, however, he had parried the thrust, the officer called out ‘pardon.’ He did not trouble himself further about the man, but continued the pursuit; an English Hussar, however, who had come up to the officer at the same time with him, led the officer back.

Bergmann went on to say that he hadn’t known that the officer was Lefebvre until after the action, when he was told he should “have held fast the man.” He added that he was young and “did not trouble” himself about the matter.  All he remembered was that the officer “wore a dark green frock, a hat with a feather, and a long straight sword.”

All the other German witnesses and letters confirm Bergmann’s story, but we also learn that the General had fired a pistol at Bergmann “which failing in its aim, he offered him his sword and made known his wish to be taken to General Stewart.” But Bergmann “didn’t know General Stewart personally, and while he was enquiring where the general was to be found, a Hussar of the tenth English joined him, and led away the prisoner.”

So this it seems is the truth of the matter: Lefebvre was surrounded by a German troop and captured by Private Johann Bergmann. Levi Grisdale, with the 10th Hussars, might have arrived at the scene at the same time as Bergmann or very slightly after, opinions differ. Lefebvre asked to be taken to General Stewart and so Bergmann, “not knowing General Stewart personally”, handed him over to Private Grisdale who “led the prisoner away.”

Lefebvre was delivered to the British Commander-in-Chief, Sir John Moore. Moore, who, we are told, treated the General, who had suffered a superficial head wound, “kindly” and “entertained him at his table.” He also gave him his own sword to replace the one taken when he surrendered. “Speaking to him in French”, General Moore, “provided some of his own clothes; for Lefebvre was drenched and bleeding.” He then “sent a message to the French, requesting Lefebvre’s baggage, which was promptly sent.”

Napoleon, who had viewed the action from a height overlooking the river, didn’t seem too put out by the losses of what he called his “Cherished Children.” But he was very upset when he heard of Lefebvre’s capture. He wrote to Josephine (my translation):

Lefebvre has been taken. He made a skirmish for me with 300 Chasseurs; these show-offs crossed the river by swimming, and threw themselves into the middle of the English cavalry. They killed many of them; but, returning, Lefebvre’s horse was wounded: he was drowning; the current led him to the bank where the English were; he has been taken. Console his wife.

In the aftermath of the battle, a Spanish report from the town of Benavente itself, tells us that on:

The night of the 29th they (the British) used the striking pines growing on the high ground behind the hospitals as lights, at every step coming under the fire of French artillery from the other side of the river, answered feebly by the English, whose force disappeared totally by the morning, to be replaced by a dreadful silence and solitude….

The British cavalry had slipped away and, with the rest of the army, continued its horrendous winter retreat to Corunna. Levi Grisdale and the 10th Hussars were with them.

General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes

General Lefebvre himself was later sent as a prisoner to England, and housed at Cheltenham where he lived for three years. As was the custom, he gave his word or “parole” as a French officer and gentleman that he would not try to escape. He was even allowed to be joined by his wife Stephanie. It seems that the couple: “were in demand socially and attended social events around the district.” Other reports tell us that General Lefebvre was in possession of a “fine signet ring of considerable value which had been given him years earlier by his Emperor Napoleon. Lefebvre used this ring as a bribe to get escape and was thus able to escape back to France, where he rejoined his Division.” This was, says one commentator, “an unpardonable sin according to English public opinion.” So much for a gentleman’s word!  The Emperor reinstated him as commander of the Chasseurs and he would go on to fight in all Napoleon’s subsequent campaigns, right up to Waterloo – where he would share the field once again with Levi Grisdale.

I have kept us a little too long in Spain. This is, after all, not the story of the retreat to Corunna, much less a history of the first Spanish chapter of the Peninsular War. After the so-called March of Death and the Battle of Corunna, Levi Grisdale was evacuated back to England by the Royal Navy – with what was left of the 10th Hussars. Here his fame started to spread. The Hampshire Telegraph of 18th February 1809 announced that Grisdale was back in Brighton with his regiment and described him as: “tall, well-made, well looking, ruddy and expressive.” He was promoted to Corporal and awarded a special silver medal by the regiment, which was inscribed:

Corporal Grisdale greatly distinguished himself on the 1st day of January 1809 (sic). This is adjudged to him by officers of the regiment.

The years passed. The regiment moved from Brighton to Romford in Essex, but was once again back in Brighton in 1812. Of this time we know little; only a few events in Levi’s life. Soon after his arrival back in England, he somehow arranged to get away to Bath, where on 29 March 1809, he married Ann Robinson in St James’ Church. Their only son, also called Levi, was born and baptized at Arundel on 12 March 1811 – sadly he was to die young. On 17 February 1813, he “was found guilty of being drunk and absent from barracks.” But, it seems, he was neither reduced to the ranks nor flogged. Other evidence suggests that the whole regiment was “undisciplined and tended to drunkenness.” Whether the leniency of his treatment was due to his record at Benavente we will probably never know.

But by February 1813, Levi, by this time a Sergeant, was back in the Iberian Peninsula, serving in a coalition army under Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, who was later to become the Duke of Wellington. With the 10th Hussars, he fought his way through Portugal, Spain and France and, so  his regiment’s records tell us, was actively engaged at the Battles of Morales, Vitoria, Orthes and, finally, at the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814. Here the British and their allies were badly mauled. But news soon reached the French Marshall Soult that Napoleon had abdicated and Soult agreed to an armistice.

It is said that Levi Grisdale led Bluecher's Prussians onto the field at Waterloo

It is said that Levi Grisdale led Bluecher’s Prussians onto the field at Waterloo

And that should really have been that as far as Levi Grisdale’s military campaigning days was concerned. Yet one more chapter lay ahead. A chapter that would no doubt later provide Levi with another great story to tell in his Penrith public house. Napoleon, we might recall, was to escape from his exile on the Island of Elba in February 1815. He retook the leadership of France, regathered his army, and was only definitively defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on 18th June 1815. It has often been said that the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo “hung in the balance” until the arrival of the Prussian army under Prince von Blücher. One writer puts it thus:

Blücher’s army intervened with decisive and crushing effect, his vanguard drawing off Napoleon’s badly needed reserves, and his main body being instrumental in crushing French resistance. This victory led the way to a decisive victory through the relentless pursuit of the French by the Prussians.

And here it is that we last hear of Levi’s active military exploits. According to his obituary, published in the Cumberland and Westmoreland Advertiser on 20 November 1855, Levi had been posted on the road where the Prussians were expected to arrive, and he led them onto the field of battle! We are also told that during the battle “his horse was shot from under him and he was wounded in the right calf by a splinter from a shell.” Finally, according to a letter written by Captain Thomas Taylor of the 10th Hussars, written to General Sir Vivian Hussey in 1829, Levi, who was a by now a Sergeant in No1 troop under Captain John Gurwood, and “who was one of the captors of Lefebvre … conducted the vedettes in withdrawing from French cavalry during the battle.

Of course, Levi Grisdale certainly did not “save England and Europe” from Napoleon. But, along with thousands of other common soldiers, he played his part and, unlike countless others on all sides, he survived to tell his tales in his pub.

What became of Levi? After he returned to England, he was promoted to Sergeant Major and remained another nine years with the 10th Hussars. When he left the army in 1825, aged only 42 but with twenty-two years of active service and thirty-two engagements behind him, his discharge papers said that he was suffering from chronic rheumatism and was “worn out by service.” Hardly surprising we might think. The army gave him a pension of 1s 10d a day. His papers also state that his intended place of residence was Bristol. He was as good as his word as and he was to become the landlord of the Stag and Star public house in Barr Street, Bristol.

Christ Church, Penrith – where Levi Grisdale is buried

Yet by 1832 Levi and his family had moved back to his native Penrith. His wife Ann died there in July of that year. It seems that Levi was not one to mourn for too long. Within about two weeks he had married again. This time a woman called Mary Western – with whom he had four children. He continued his life as a publican and, as I have mentioned, christened his pub the General Lefebvre; he even hung a large picture of the General over the entrance. During his last years, Levi Grisdale gave up his pub and worked as a gardener. He died of ‘dropsy’ on 17 November 1855 in Penrith, aged 72, his occupation being given as “Chelsea pensioner.” He was buried in the graveyard of Christ Church in Penrith.

Despite what we know about Levi’s life, we will never know what was most important to him – his family, his comrades? Nor will we know what he thought of the ruling ‘officer class’? What he thought of the social and political system that had led him to fight so many battles against adversaries he knew little about? Nor whose side he was really on? We will never know these things, though we can imagine!

As General Macarthur once said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” ‘General’ Levi Grisdale certainly died but, thankfully, his memory has not yet faded away.

Sources

Mary Grisdale. Levi Grisdale. Unpublished research 2006; David Fallowfield. Levi Grisdale 1783-1855, Unpublished article. Penrith; Philip J. Haythornthwaite. Corunna 1809: Sir John Moore’s Fighting Retreat. London: Osprey Publishing 2001; Lettres de Napoléon à Joséphine, Tome Second, Paris 1833, Firman Didot Freres; Christopher Hibbert. Corunna, Batsford 1961; Michael Clover. The Peninsular War 1807-1814. Penguin Books 2003; North Ludlow Beamish. History of the King’s German Legion, Harvard 1832; Christopher Summerville. The March of Death: Sir John Moore’s Retreat to Corunna. Greenhill books 2006; Brime, D. Fernando Fernandez. Historical Notes of the Town of Benavente and its Environs.  Valladolid 1881; Wikipedia.  Battle of Benavente. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Benavente.; The Museum of the King’s Royal Hussars. http://www.horsepowermuseum.co.uk/index.html .

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

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matterdale Old School

Matterdale Old School

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

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

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

Some of the 5th Battlion the Border Regiment in France

Some of the 5th Battlion the Border Regiment in France

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cockermouth gravestone of the last Matterdale Grisdales

Cockermouth gravestone of the last Matterdale Grisdales

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

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

Matterdale Church, Cumberland

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

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

Background to the trials

Matterdale

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

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

The Carlisle trial and the appeal

Hutton John – Andrew Huddleston’s Manor

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

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

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

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

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

The House of Lords

London in 1690

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

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

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

He based his case on his contention that:

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

And that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westermell Fell – Now Great Mell Fell

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

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

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

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

The verdict

The House of Lords in the seventeenth century

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

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

The day before the hearing the Lords ordered that:

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

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

I give the Lords’ verdict in full:

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

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

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

Who were the protagonists and their witnesses?

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

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

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

Brownrigg In Matterdale – Where William Mounsey lived

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

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

What was it all about?

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

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

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

Sheepfold on Hutton Moor

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

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

George Orwell once put it thus:

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

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

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

Deprived of the Commons many Matterdale people ended up here

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

Sources

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

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

At the end of the eighteenth century the pressures forcing rural people off the land were reaching a peak. One of the few options besides emigration and joining the army was to move to work in the dark satanic mills. In the north of England this often meant the cotton mills of Lancashire. Several Grisdale families from Matterdale followed this route. This is the story of just one of them. It is also a story of how part of the family then emigrated to Pennsylvania and from there, via Montana and the coal mines of Iowa, to Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. A story of pioneers maybe and a little example of “How the West was Won”.

The story is best started with Thomas Grisdale, who was born in Matterdale in 1772, the eighth and penultimate child of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple. Sometime in the 1790s Thomas  moved to Bolton in Lancashire (then called Bolton Le Moors); he married an Elizabeth Crossley there in September 1796. Between 1799 and 1817 they had nine children in Bolton. The fifth of these, born in 1809, was called Doctor Grisdale – for reasons that are not known. It is he who we will follow to America.

The industrial revolution was getting under way and Lancashire villages were being transformed from small rural settlements into huge cotton producing centres. They quickly became massive sinks of misery, squalor and exploitation for the rural poor – who were to become a new urban proletariat. They were to remain so throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century.

An early Power Loom

Thomas became a cotton weaver. Whether at first he was a hand-loom weaver or whether he started work immediately on one of the new power looms that had recently been invented and patented by Edmund Cartwright we don’t know. Hand loom weavers were a type of urban working class elite and they could earn good wages for their skills. But once mechanised power looms were introduced demand for hand weavers fell and their numbers dwindled. It was precisely against the brutal and inequitable effects of this process that the original Luddites were to fight and this certainly in and around Bolton. One of the most infamous repressions of the Luddite protests took place in nearby West Houghton in 1812. Garth Ratcliffe in the ‘The Burning of Westhoughton Mill by Luddites in 1812’ writes:

On Friday afternoon April 24th 1812 a mob of Luddites from Chowbent/Atherton attacked Westhoughton Mill, a cotton weaving mill situated opposite the White Lion Inn. This Mill was one of the first steam driven in the locality. The Mill was broken into and set fire to and burned down. The Scots Greys stationed in the area, rounded up the suspects who were identified by various witnesses from Hag Fold and other areas of Chowbent which is only about 2 miles from Westhoughton.

The suspects, who were mainly disaffected weavers, were “examined” by Ralph Fletcher and other magistrates and subsequently taken to Lancaster Castle prison to await trial for the charge of burning looms and a factory.
In addition, there were other Luddites mainly from Bolton town centre, who were charged with various aspects of “illegal oath taking/attending illegal meetings”.

Both sets of Luddites were tried on 23rd May 1812 and the results of the trail sentenced four men to be hanged and nine others transported to Australia for seven years.

The executions were at Lancaster Castle. The transported prisoners were taken to Portsmouth to await the next ship to Australia which took about 8 months.

These prisoners had to work for seven years on govt projects or for a landowner. After this period they could apply for ownership of land.

Luddites in Bolton in 1812

Maybe Thomas Grisdale witnessed this? If not he certainly will have heard about it because it was his fellow weavers who were killed, executed and transported to Australia.

But with the Luddite protests crushed by the army and militia, the grim life of the power loom weavers in Lancashire went on. In 1841the family are still working in the cotton mills: Thomas, now aged “65”, living with two of his sons, and Doctor Grisdale with his young family. They were all “cotton weavers”.

Doctor Grisdale had married Mary Greene and their son Thomas was born in 1839. Another son called Joseph was to follow in 1842.

Anybody who would like to get a flavour of the unimaginable squalor and poverty experienced at this time in the Lancashire mill towns would be well advised to read Frederick Engels’ “The Condition of the Working Class in England” published in 1845. Engels had visited Bolton on more than one occasion and made this comment:

Among the worst of these towns after Preston and Oldham is Bolton, eleven miles north-west of Manchester. It has, so far as I have been able to observe in my repeated visits, but one main street, a very dirty one, Deansgate, which serves as a market, and is even in the finest weather a dark, unattractive hole in spite of the fact that, except for the factories, its sides are formed by low one and two-storied houses. Here, as everywhere, the older part of the town is especially ruinous and miserable. A dark-coloured body of water, which leaves the beholder in doubt whether it is a brook or a long string of stagnant puddles, flows through the town and contributes its share to the total pollution of the air, by no means pure without it.

Such was the place in which this Grisdale family lived and worked.

A Delaware Woolen Mill

Some were destined to suffer this cruel fate for decades to come, but some tried to get out. Doctor Grisdale was one of these. Some Lancashire weavers had already emigrated to the United States, there to help in the development of America’s cotton and woollen mills. One place where they had ended up was in Pennsylvania and it was to there that Doctor and his young family headed. They boarded the ship Plymouth Rock in Liverpool and arrived in Boston on 16 January 1850. Just months later the family were established in Upper Darby. Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Doctor was working as a weaver in the mills. Local historian Thomas J. DiFilippo tells us this about Upper Darby:

The growth rate of the township changed about 1830 when textile making moved from the homes into mills. Before 1830, the spinning of yarn and the weaving of cloth was mostly performed at home by the women and primarily to satisfy the family’s needs. About 1830, some old grist mills were converted to spin yarn that was sold to individuals who wove their own crude cloth. About 1840, the mills became “integrated,” meaning they spun the yarn from raw material, then wove, finished and dyed the cloth. This was the beginning of a prosperous large textile industry in Upper Darby that lasted into the mid-1900s.

What became this country’s massive textile industry began in New England then spread to the Delaware Valley. Philadelphia became a major textile center with many mills in Germantown, Manayunk, Kensington, and Blockley. Realizing the potential market for textiles, descendants of the Garretts, Sellers, and Levis, followed by the Burnleys. Kellys, Kents, and Wolfendens, built or converted to textile mills. This expansion occurred after the flood of 1843 because that event destroyed nearly everything along the creeks.

Most of the mills employed Immigrants from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and later Irish Catholics. Although the managers and skilled workers were male, the laborious jobs were performed mostly by women and children. The mills owned the nearby “mill houses” and rented them to their employees. Workers were expected to follow the politics of the mill owners. Very few owners had compassion for the workers and thus the working conditions were poor, the salaries meagre and the working hours long. These conditions bred frequent labor disputes and were the cause of the early child labor laws and unionization.

By 1860 the family had moved to the mills in nearby Upper Merion, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, where Doctor was still employed as a weaver in a woollen mill. What happened to Doctor Grisdale and his wife in the few years after 1860 is unclear, I’ll mention his death later. But the family’s long trek from Bolton to the west coast of America was only just beginning.

A Coal Mine in Oskaloosa. Iowa

What is clear is that Doctor’s son Thomas set off west, probably accompanied with his American born sister, Mary Ann. Perhaps Doctor’s son Joseph had already died? In 1862, Thomas married a very young Elmira Jane Clements, who came originally from Porter, Indiana. Their first child, Dora Mae Grisdale, was born in Montana Territory in 1868. But in 1870 the family was living in Oskaloosa in Mahaska County, Iowa. Thomas was now a “Miner” living with his family and his sister.

Mahaska County was rich in bituminous coal and in the 1870s coal mining became part of the local economy. In 1883, the area had 38 mines and an annual output of over a million tons. In the prime days of mining, Mahaska County surpassed all other Iowa counties in tonnage and number of mines. The advent of transcontinental railroads was also a boon to Mahaska County. The locomotives moved coal out of the area year round as demand for coal increased.

The earliest settlers mined coal among the hills of south central Iowa. They used coal to heat their homes and cook their food in areas were timber was not available.

Not until 1870 did the industry of coal mining begin to rapidly grow in Iowa. By that time the major Iowa railroads reached from the Mississippi River in the east to the Missouri River in the west. The railroads leased land in coal producing areas and operated mines which produced coal for the use of the railroads. These were the largest and most productive mines in the state.

We are also told the following about the Iowa mines of the time:

Usually a coal camp had several hundred small homes, a company store, a tavern or pool hall, and a school. Most coal companies required that miners shop only at the company store which sold everything from “cradles to coffins.”  Most mining families didn’t like this restriction. Because the average coal mine lasted only ten years, little care was given to the appearance of these camps

The history of one of these mines tells us:

One of the best remembered and most unusual coal camps was located in Monroe County in southern Iowa. Buxton, as it was called, was a thriving coal community during the early 1900s.

At first the camp was located at what was called Muchakinock about five miles south of Oskaloosa in, Mahaska County. For at least two years mining was good in this area. But then in 1875 labor troubles began. The workers went on strike. In 1881 black workers recruited from the south were hired as strike breakers.  In a few years the mines of Muchakinock were nearly exhausted. The Chicago and Northwestern railroad, which owned the Consolidation Coal Company, bought more land south in Monroe County. The community moved south where they began to build the town of Buxton.  It was named after J.E. Buxton, the superintendent of the Consolidation Coal Company.

Buxton was a thriving community for at least twenty years. By 1920 the mines began to run out of coal. By 1927 the last mine was closed. Buxton soon became a ghost town like the many other mining camps dotting central Iowa.

We don’t know how long Thomas and Elmira were in this Iowa mining community, their second daughter, Mary Lucinda, was born in Montana in 1870 and by 1873 their third child Thomas Edward was born in Oregon, so maybe they were just passing through? However I think it likely that they remained until at least 1878 because on 25 April in that year Thomas’s father Doctor died and was buried in Oskaloosa. Perhaps he and his wife had come to join them. In any case Oregon was the family’s next stop in the great move west. In 1880 we find them in Roseburg, Douglas County, Oregon with several more children. Thomas’s sister Mary Ann was also there, having by this time married Timothy Ford. But also Doctor Grisdale’s widow Mary had moved with them to Oregon. Thomas was working as a “Brick Maker”. He then moved to Bridgeport, Baker County, Oregon with more of his children and was listed there in the 1900 US Census as a “farmer”. So maybe after more than a century it was back to the land!

The grave of Doctor Grisdale’s widow Mary In Oregon

Thomas Grisdale was still living in 1903 because he paid a substantial council tax in Baker, Oregon, in 1903; but his mother Mary died on 26 June 1901 and was buried in Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery, Portland, Oregon, as was his sister Mary Ann Ford. Something of the immediate history of Thomas’s family can be found on my (evolving) tree on Ancestry; although I have yet to find Thomas’s own death or that of his father Doctor. Thomas’s wife Elmira had married Amos Carson following Thomas’s death and died in 1940 In Baker County, Oregon.

I know this little history is somewhat lacking in detail and is rather skeletal, but it is, I think, another interesting example of the spirit of endurance and survival of so many English people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families – wherever in the world they had to go to do this. The Grisdales in this respect were no different to thousands or millions of others. But I don’t apologize for this. This family is after all the subject of this site. Sometimes I think that while this is family history it is perhaps something more. It can illustrate important social, economic and political realities about English history and the history of the English-speaking world.

Finally, although many members of this Grisdale family were to stay in Bolton (and their stories are interesting too) one other son of the Thomas Grisdale who came from Matterdale, a brother of Doctor, and also called Thomas (1804-1879), also led a very adventurous life. He found his way to Madras in India (possibly with the British Army) and from there, with wife and children, to Melbourne in Australia.

This is the story of a young girl who became a ballet dancer at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London, who married a famous and well-to-do painter, who lived the good life for a while and moved to America. But later poverty and tragedy were to strike and this young girl eked out her final years hawking fish in Falmouth, Cornwall.

Outside Drury Lane Theatre 1820

Because of tight licensing laws in the early nineteenth century there were only two main theatres in London – The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane was one. It was a world where high culture and society met the demimonde. Shakespearean, German and French plays were produced alongside music and romantic ballets. Talented artists were employed to capture scenes from the plays and ballets as well as being commissioned to paint portraits of the leading actors, actresses and dancers – for example of the famous though scandalous and notorious Edmund Kean. Starting in the 1820s one of the most successful and rising of these artists was the young John William Gear (J W Gear). Born in Alverstoke, Hampshire into a very talented and successful Hampshire family, John Gear’s father, Joseph Gear, was both a renowned marine painter and a musician in the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra.

John painted and engraved dozens of scenes from the vibrant life at Drury Lane. In 1824 he even painted the royal family of Hawaii who attended a performance at the theatre during a “state” visit to London.

John William Gear’s painting of the Hawaiian Royal Family at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1824

As mentioned, as well as tragedies the theatre put on romantic or “pastoral” ballets, which usually followed the heavier and more melodramatic fare. There was also what we would now call a “Corps de Ballet”, with principal and supporting dancers. Starting in 1824 one of these dancers was a “Miss Grisdale”. Her full name was Elizabeth Grisdale; though she was known as Minnie. Her name can be found on many of the theatre’s advertising “bills” in the 1820s – for example in 1825 she danced dozens of times in the “pastoral ballet”  The Rossignol – or, The Bird in the Bush. This followed various tragedies such as Macbeth, Der Freischutz and The Merchant of Venice, which featured among others the great Edward Kean and a young James William Wallack (of whom more later). She might have known Joseph Gear as well. The only record I can find that gives some of her (approximate) words is the report of a trial for theft heard at the Old Bailey on the 6th April 1826, it concerns the theft of a pair of Elizabeth’s drawers:

MARGARET HARDING was again indicted for stealing, on the 27th of October, 1 Pair of drawers, value 1s. 6d., the goods of Elizabeth Grisdale, spinster.

ELIZABETH GRISDALE. I belong to Drury-lane Theatre – I was there in October last. The prisoner was a dresser there. These drawers are my property; they were missed from the Theatre on the night after I left them, when I went there to dress – I cannot say when it was.

THOMAS SAMUEL RAVENSCROFT. I am a pawnbroker. I took in these drawers of the prisoner, on the 27th of October – I have known her some time.

GUILTY. Aged 28.

Recommended to Mercy. – Confined Six Months.

Elizabeth was born in the Tower Hamlets in the East End of London and baptized on 5th July 1807 in the Church of Saint George in the East. Her parents were Gideon Grisdale and Elizabeth Jordan. Gideon was a jeweller living in Ship Alley, Well Close, in Tower Hamlets. Interestingly Gideon had also been a party to a trial at the Old Bailey in 1813:

WILLIAM HALL was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 16th of April, a clock, value 5 l. the property of Gideon Grisdale .

JOHN DUNN GARMSAY . I am a clock-maker, in the employ of Mr. Grisdale; I made the clock for Mr. Grisdale; he told me the clock was stolen out of the shop.

Q. Did you afterwards see the clock in the possession of the prisoner – A. No.

JAMES BLAND. I am a silversmith; I live in Norton Falgate. I bought the clock of the prisoner about four months ago; that clock was afterwards claimed to be Mr. Grisdale’s property; I delivered it to Hewitt, the officer. I did not ask him how he came by it, nor he did not tell me.

WILLIAM HEWITT. I am an officer. I produce this clock; it was delivered to me by Mr. Bland; Mr. Garmsay saw the clock in Bland’s window; I went and took the clock, and directed Bland to stop the prisoner if he ever saw him again. I know nothing more than finding the prisoner in custody.

John Garmsay . This clock is the property of Mr. Grisdale. Elizabeth Grisdale is too ill to attend.

NOT GUILTY .

London jury, before Mr. Common Serjeant.

Gideon Grisdale was born In Matterdale in 1777, the first of the many children of the old blacksmith in Dockray, Matterdale: Wilfred Grisdale, and his second wife Ruth Slee. Wilfred had been born in 1711 to Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray. He had married Ann Brownrigg in 1733 but the couple had no children. But when Ann died in 1775, Wilfred wasted no time in marrying again. He married a young Ruth Slee (48 years his junior) in 1776, at the age of 65. But children soon followed, six in all: Gideon, Charlotte, Bilhah, Wilfred, Joseph and William. I have told some of the stories of Gideon’s siblings already: Wilfred his brother who took the whole family to Canada and his  dancing brother William.

The Old Bailey

As we know Gideon had moved to London and become first a “pawn broker” and then a “jeweller, trader and chapman”. But for reasons we will probably never discover by July 1813 Gideon had been declared bankrupt. From various notices in the London Gazette we know something of what happened. Several meetings were called where his creditors had to prove the debts owed and where Gideon was “examined” as to his estate. This took the better part of a year. Assignees were appointed to manage the bankruptcy and they then proceeded to sell off Gideon’s lease on his premises plus all his “stock in trade, household furniture, goods, chattels, property and effects”. Two dividends were declared for creditors before Gideon was released from bankruptcy by order of “the Right Honourable John Lord Eldon, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain” having “in all things conformed himself according to the directions of the several Acts of Parliament concerning bankrupts”.

All this was going on while Elizabeth was still a small girl. What became of Gideon and his wife after the bankruptcy is a mystery, they disappear from the historical record.

A Ballet at Drury Lane Theatre

Returning to Elizabeth, she was obviously a pretty young dancer at Drury Lane and there she must have caught the eye of John W Gear because on the 19th February 1827 they were married in the Church of Saint Martin in the Fields.

John and Elizabeth Gear never had children and when and why Elizabeth stopped dancing is unknown. But John’s career seems to have flourished and he kept on painting and engraving in the theatre throughout the 1830s and 1840s. The couple seem to first have lived in Wilson Street, Gray’s Inn Road, but in both 1841 and 1851 they were living at 5 Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, a very prestigious and well-to-do address. Things looked bright.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass

Yet for some reason John and Elizabeth left for America in 1852 – moving first to New York and later to Boston. Perhaps the reason was that John’s career was stagnating, or perhaps it was in order for John to live near his father Joseph Gear who had emigrated to the United States many years before and was living and working in Boston; still painting but mostly working as a bassist in the Boston theatre. It’s possible that Joseph was ill and his son wanted to see him before he died – which Joseph did in 1853.

The Houghton Library of Harvard University, where much of John’s work is held, tells us the following:

John William Gear… was an English-born portraitist, miniaturist, watercolor painter, and lithographer, who specialized in theatrical portraits. His greatest work was the publishing of a set of impressions of theater audiences, Portraits of the Public being Heads of Audiences, …. This work was to be published a few at a time in pamphlet form, but only number one ever appeared. He exhibited in London, 1821-1852, and came to Boston ca. 1852 and set-up a business for cleaning and restoring paintings. Although he exhibited his work at the Boston Athenaeum in 1855, he sank into poverty.

We are also told that his father Joseph:

Joseph Gear (1768-1853) was a marine painter, engraver, caricaturist, and a musician. He immigrated to the United States in 1824?, later moved to Boston, and exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum, 1829-1837. He was said to be a “double bassist employed at Drury Lane Theatre, London, and Tremont St. Theatre, Boston, Mass.” John William Gear was his son.

But the sad part for John and for his wife Elizabeth was that:

In 1866 he (John) committed suicide at his father’s grave (Joseph Gear) in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Falmouth Harbour

A sad but human tale. What became of Elizabeth (Grisdale) Gear? Already in poverty it seems she soon returned to England. By 1871, aged 63, she was living in Falmouth, Cornwall, at 7 Briton’s Yard, right on the harbour. She was a “Shell Fish Dealer”, being born in “Saint George in the East, London”. Elizabeth, now listed as Minnie Gear, was still there in 1881, carrying on the same trade – as a “Hawker”.

A fish hawker was a trader in fish, much like what we now call a fish-monger. She would have bought fish from the returning fishing fleet and sold it to local people, probably from an outdoor stall. We can only imagine what Elizabeth thought when she looked back on her life. How she had been a beautiful ballet dancer at Drury Lane; how she had married a successful and affluent painter; how they had lived at ease in London; how they had gone to America where it had all gone wrong and her husband had committed suicide on his father’s grave and how now she was just selling fish! Who knows? Did her Falmouth customers hear any of this? And if so did they believe her?

Elizabeth “Minnie” Gear died in 1890 in Falmouth.

One coincidence might be mentioned. One of the famous actors who played on the same stage as Elizabeth, and on many of the same days, was a young James William Wallack. After touring extensively in the United States from 1818, Wallack settled in New York in 1852 and started “Wallack’s Theatre” in 1861. In New York one of the actors who was a regular member of his Theatre Group in the 1860s was a certain Walter Grisdale, about whom I wrote briefly on the site. Walter’s great great grandfather, Joseph Grisdale, was also Elizabeth Grisdale Gear’s great grandfather!

write a lot about Matterdale; but what about its school? I discussed the Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale in an earlier article. He was Matterdale School’s founder and benefactor. Here I’d simply like to tell a little more of the founding of the school. In particular I’ll reproduce the foundation Indenture or Trust Deed and tell something of the school’s early history. I know that many of my own ancestors attended the school; which makes it all the more pertinent for me.

Matterdale Old School

Matterdale Old School

By the early eighteenth century the Rev. Robert Grisdale had become a successful and reasonably wealthy clergyman. Even though he now lived in London, he obviously wanted to help the children of his native valley. The first step was to secure some land on which a school could be built. In 1716 he managed to persuade the Hon Charles Howard (the Baron of Greystoke) to denote 1.5 acres for this purpose. The land lies up a small rise just a few hundred yards west of Matterdale Church, a church where at the time one of Robert’s relatives, Thomas Grisdale, was still the curate. Then the school had to be built. How was this financed? Well it seems that Robert Grisdale paid for it himself.

In 1901 the Rev. Whiteside wrote[i]:

The present school was probably built, with the dwelling-house under the same roof, just prior to 1722. That is the date of the indenture whereby the Rev. Robert Grisedale, D.D., of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, who sprang from Dowthwaite in Matterdale, entrusts the management of the school and school estate, to thirteen trustees and their successors.

As Whiteside said, in 1722, when the school was complete, all was set to provide for its future maintenance and the appointment of schoolmasters or mistresses. I reproduce the full text of the Indenture or Trust Deed of 1722 at the end. It’s rather long. I include it here because it is not otherwise easily accessible and because one or two of you might care to read it?

The initials of the first schoolmasters or mistresses are inscribed on the school’s mantelpiece: W. W, I. B, T, D, T. B, L H, J.H, D. B and T. W. The first named schoolmaster was John Hodgson in 1799. There is an interesting story about Hodgson, who was ‘the famous historian of Northumberland, and one of Westmorland’s worthiest sons… He was a native of Swindale in Shap’.  In a letter written by him to Sir W. C. Trevelyan, in 1843, Hodgson wrote:

When I was at school at Bampton, forty-three years since, Professor Carlyle, then chancellor of the diocese of Carlisle, was anxious that I should go with him, as his secretary in the expedition he made with Lord Elgin, as ambassador to the Ottoman Court. I ardently wished to have been able to go; but instead of sailing through the Hellespontus, and seeing Hoemus and Rhodope on the right of the Propontis, and Caucasus and Taurus on the left, I was content to become in that year (1799) the schoolmaster of Matterdale, in Cumberland. It was, however, very curious that four years afterwards the Professor was appointed chaplain of Bishop Barrington, and I had to be examined by him at Newcastle for deacon’s orders.

In the Antiquary a notice of Hodgson says, ‘The salary was small, but the place was interesting in a high degree to the young schoolmaster, as it gave him an opportunity of studying the geology of the district.’

Photos May 2013 266

Matterdale New School

As you will see if you read the Indenture of 1722 reproduced below, keeping the control of the school somewhat in the Grisdale family was a major concern of Robert Grisdale. It was obviously quite effective, because a hundred years later the Grisdales were still predominant among the school’s trustees, including descendants of Robert’s brother Edward.

What was Matterdale School like? Today the building is empty and rather forlorn. It was closed in 1907 because it was too small, a new school was built to replace it. But for two centuries it was full of bustle and life. The Rev. Whiteside tells us:

The building, which is not now very attractive, has suffered from restoration, like many a church. Up to the passing of the Education Act in 1871, I am told, it was a fine and symmetrical edifice, with a spacious staircase of thick oak in the centre; but to meet the requirements of the Department the school was enlarged, both in length and height, at the expense of the entrance hall and staircase and upper rooms.

The Indenture for the school’s foundation in 1722:

This Indenture made the 6th Day of August in the year of the Reign of the Sovereign Lord, George, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith etc A.D. 1722. Between the Rev Robert Grisdale of the parish of St Martin’s in the Fields within the Liberty of Westminster, Clerk, of the one part, and Edward Grisdale of Dowthwaite, Brother of the said Robert Grisdale, William Wilson of Dowthwaite aforesaid, Nephew in Law of the said Robert Grisdale, Joseph Grisdale of Dowthwaite aforesaid, John Greenhow of Crookwath, Thomas Atkinson now of Matterdale End, John  Mounsey of Brownrigg, Joseph Grisdale of Townhead in Dockray, Thomas Grisdale of Bonsons, John Wilson of the Pinfold aforesaid, John Wilson of the Mills, Richard Wilkinson of the Hollas, Edward Dawson and John Sutton of Matterdale End aforesaid, Tenants or Inhabitants of the Manor or Lordship of Matterdale within the Barony of Greystoke & County of Cumberland, nominated and appointed by the said Robert Grisdale Trustees of the Free School hereinafter mentioned of the first part.

Whereas the Honourable Henry Charles Howard Esq. the 4th day of October in the Third year of this present Majesty’s Reign A.D. 1716 then Lord of the said Manor by John Mounsey & Henry Capps, Gentlemen, his stewards, by & with the free consent & approbation of the Trustees  and others, Tenants or Inhabitants of Matterdale aforesaid testified by subscribing their names thereto, did for the considerations therein mentioned for Himself his Heirs & Successors Lords of the Manor in open court grant & convey unto the said Robert Grisdale a piece or parcel of pasture ground, lying & being in & upon Matterdale Common containing by Estimation six roods be the same more or less, situated & being on the West side of Matterdale Church commonly called Butts Hills near Thwaites Gate in order to have a school house erected there, by the appointment and Direction of the said R. Grisdale & at his own proper costs & charges to finish the same, for & towards the education of the children there to be taught and instructed by a schoolmaster or schoolmistress or both of them at the discretion of the said R. Grisdale, who as patron & Founder thereof, did thereby agree to Endow the same with the yearly endowment of Ten pounds for the only use & benefit of the said school for ever, as by the said in part recited grant, now remaining as of Record in the Court of the said Barony of Greystoke relation being thereunto had many more at large appear (?)

And whereas the said schoolhouse is since completely finished & the same made every way convenient for the good ends & purposes aforesaid, and a study fitted up and prepared with Books for those that are desirous to inform themselves in polite learning according to the intentions of the Donor.

And Whereas the said R. Grisdale hath presented a Mistress to the said school & hath for some years last allowed her the salary or sum of £10 a year by quarterly payments, and hath also since endeavoured (though without effect as yet) to find out a purchase of a Freehold Estate or some other good & sufficient security so that the salary or sum of £10 a year may forever hereafter be settled on the said school payable as aforesaid.

Now this Indenture also witnesseth that until such time a Freehold Estate or some other good & sufficient security can be had & obtained for securing the sum of £200 so that the sum of £10 a year may forever hereafter accrue & become payable to the Master or Mistress of the said school which shall happen to be the teacher thereof, the said Robert Grisdale doth hereby for himself covenant promise grant & agree to & with the said Edward Grisdale, William Wilson etc the Trustees aforesaid, & their successors Trustees of the said school that he, the said R. Grisdale, shall & will during his natural life yearly & every year until such purchase or other security shall be had & obtained as aforesaid pay or cause to be paid unto the said Edward Grisdale, William Wilson etc their Successors/Trustees of the said school or to some of these for the purpose aforesaid the yearly Salary or Sum of £10 at the most usual Feasts or Days of payment in the year (this is to say) the Feast of St Michael the Archangel, the Birth of our Lord Christ, the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist by even and equal portions, the first of the said payments to begin & be made on such of the Feast Days which shall first happen next ensuing the date hereof.

And this Indenture further witnesseth that in case no such purchase or other security as aforesaid shall be had & obtained during the natural life of the said R. Grisdale then the said R. Grisdale doth hereby for himself his Heirs Executors and Administrators and for every of them covenant promise grant & agree to and with the said E. Grisdale, William Wilson & the Trustees aforesaid & their successors Trustees of the said school, that the Heirs Executors or Administrators of the said R. Grisdale shall & will within one year next after the Decease of the said R Grisdale advance & pay or cause to be advanced & paid unto the said E. Grisdale, William Wilson etc the Trustees aforesaid or their successors Trustees of the said school or some of them the sum of £10 of Lawful money of Great Britain, that is to say the sum of £200 to be laid out in the purchase of Lands or put out upon some good security at Interest in order to be a standing salary for the benefit of the school, & the sum of £10 residue of the said £200 to be and remain for a yearly salary to the then Master or Mistress of the said school, & then (?) the said yearly payment of £10 per annum from thenceforth for ever to cease, anything herein contained to the contrary hereof in any wise notwithstanding.

Provided always & it is the true intent & meaning of the parties to these presents that in the case the said £200 shall fall short & not produce the annual Interest of £10 or the said schoolhouse shall want some necessary reparations that then in both or in either of the said cases the said R. Grisdale doth order & appoint and it is hereby agreed by the said E. G., W.W. etc the Trustees aforesaid for themselves & their successors Trustees of the said school, that it shall & may be lawful to & for the said E.G., W.W. etc the Trustees aforesaid & their successors Trustees of the said school not only from time to time to raise the Quarterage of the scholars belonging to Matterdale aforesaid, that shall then frequent the school any sum of money the said £200 shall fall short of producing the yearly sum of £10, but also such sum & sums of money as shall be needful or necessary for keeping the said schoolhouse in all convenient & necessary reparations,

And it is also hereby further declared & appointed by the said R. Grisdale & the said E.G, W.W. etc the Trustees aforesaid do for themselves & their successors, Trustees of the said school, covenant & agree to & with the said R. Grisdale his Heirs Executors Administrators & assigns by these presents that in case there shall arise any Difference or Dispute about the management of the said school, that then & in such case the said Trustees & their Successors, Trustees of the said school (upon complaint of any three or more of the said Trustees or their Successors Trustees of the said school by petition or otherwise made to the Chancellor of Carlisle for the time being & praying him to hear & determine their said cause of complaint) shall & will finally submit to & abide the direction & determination of the said Chancellor of the diocese of Carlisle for the time being.

And it is further declared and appointed by the said R. Grisdale & the Trustees aforesaid do for themselves & their successors, Trustees of the said school covenant & agree to & with the said R. Grisdale, his Heirs  Executors and Administrators that they the said Trustees and their successors Trustees of the said school shall as often as occasion shall be & require by death of any of the Trustees, or their removal out of the Dale not having then any Estate therein within the space of Three months next after such Death or Removal meet & make choice of as many as will make up the number Thirteen hereby appointed, whereof the person inheriting the Estate of the said Mr Grisdale’s Father always to be one, & the person inheriting his Brother Edward’s Estate in Dowthwaite aforesaid be another. And also as often as occasion shall be, & require by Death Removal or otherwise to meet & make choice of a Master or Mistress by a plurality of voices, but if it can be agreed upon a Mistress rather for the advantage and improvement of the girls inhabiting in Matterdale aforesaid.

And the said Trustees of the school covenant, promise grant & agree to & with the said R. Grisdale that it shall & may be lawful to & for the said R. Grisdale during his natural life not only to make choice of such Master or Mistress he shall think proper & convenient to teach the said school but also from time to time as occasion shall be & required by Death or otherwise as aforesaid to elect & choose new Trustees in the place & stead of any of the Trustees herein before nominated & appointed.

In witness whereof the said parties to these presents have interchangeably set their hands & seals the day and year above written.


[i] Rev. J. Whiteside, M.A., Incumbent of Helsington, Matterdale Church and School, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian And Archaeological Society, Vol 1, 1901, Ed. W. G. Collingwood, M.A

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.

A truly staggering number of the Matterdale Grisdale clan became priests. Some had the benefit of an Oxford education (mostly at Queen’s College), and went on to great things. Others did not, but they were no less worthy. I have written about some of these ‘Priestly Grisdales’ already. Here I’d like to start to look at some others. I’ll start with John Grisdale, who between 1694 and 1722 was the curate, or ‘parson’, of Troutbeck Chapel in Westmorland, as well as the schoolmaster of the village school.

John Grisdale (an e was latter added to the name) was born in 1654 in Hollas in Matterdale. He was the son of Michael Grisdale (abt. 1615 – 1694) and his first wife Dorothy. Hollas is now the farm called ‘The Hollows’, near Matterdale Church.  The Hollas Grisdales were to have many connections with the Church. John’s uncle, also called John (1609 – 1682), was himself a ‘clerk’; quite possibly one of the early curates of Matterdale. Our John’s older brother Thomas (1643 – 1718) was himself a long-serving curate of Matterdale, while his younger half-brother Richard (b. 1667) was very likely also the curate of Crook Chapel near Kendal.

John married sometime prior to 1685 and his son Michael Grisedale, named after his father, was baptized in ‘Kendal’ on 23 March 1685. The baptism record shows John being ‘of Kentmere’

Kentmere Church

Kentmere Church

‘Johannes Grassdale’ was licensed in 1682 as curate of Kentmere Chapel in Westmorland. In 1691 he ‘exhibited’ there. Each clergyman was obliged to ‘exhibit’ his ordination, institution and induction papers once in each Archdeacon’s incumbency. A number of exhibits were usually taken at each spring Visitation. ‘Exhibit Books record the dates and places of the clergyman’s admittance as deacon and priest, and details about his institution to his current benefice.’ Some clergymen, particularly curates, will appear more than once, since their licences were regularly renewed.

John was still curate of Kentmere in 1701, but it was noted that, “Johannes Grisedale was also schoolmaster at Troutbeck; he had exhibited in 1691 for Kentmere but was described as ‘really serving without licence at Troutbeck.’” John had become the curate of Troutbeck and the village schoolmaster in 1694. He would remain curate until 1722, when he probably died.

In George Henry Joyce’s Some Records of Troutbeck (1924) we read:

1694-95. Mr. Grisedale came to be Minister at Troutbeck this year at a Salary of £10. The said John Grisedale agrees to perform all things belonging to the office of a Minister and diligently to keep and teach a School, as well for Petty, as for Gramar Scholars. The Articles of Agreement by John Grisedale and 43 other names have been duly subscribed to, and are well approved by Wm. Wilson, Rector of Windermere.

Joyce, who was Troutbeck’s schoolmaster for over forty years, adds, ‘The Schoolmaster was required to teach English, latin, greek, and the first four rules of arithmetic. He had to sign a Bond in the sum of Ten Pounds of lawful English money to do his duty, or else not to be admitted to his office’.

Town Head, Troutbeck

Town Head, Troutbeck

Before telling a little more of Troutbeck Chapel and School, what more do we know of John’s life on Troutbeck? Except that he was married with at least one son I know little, but we do know where he lived. In A Westmorland Village (1904), S. H. Scott wrote that after having visited the important Browne family house on the main road in Town Head, the northern most hamlet of Troutbeck, we can proceed:

Up the lane, round a sharp corner, we come to a house very much overgrown with creepers and roses. In the eighteenth century it was the house of Parson Grisedale, parish priest of Troutbeck, and its interior, for it has been very little altered since that time, gives a good idea of the simple surroundings of a Westmorland parson at that time. The ‘house’ has a floor of the familiar blue flags; the ceiling is low, and of course there are the oak beams and joists.

There is an oak cabinet, dated 1705, which bears the initials of John Grisedale and his wife, and a ‘locker’ in the wall by the chimney corner has the same initials and the date 1703.

The small house next Parson Grisedale’s old house was also in the possession of the Grisedale family at one time.

Troutbeck Church

Troutbeck Church

There was a chapel at Troutbeck since well before 1558. The church we see today is the result of a major rebuilding in 1736. The structures that John Grisedale had seen and served were knocked down to their foundation. The rebuilding followed a visitation from the Archdeacon of Richmond (Troutbeck was in the Archdeaconry of Richmond in the Diocese of Chester), which said the following: ‘We present the Chapel of Troutbeck the covering thereof not being in sufficient repair, the walls not being well plastered, and the windows shattered and broken.’

A plan of the former church was made in 1707, in John’s time there; it shows the design and positioning of all the windows and doors. There was also a steeple which in 1735 was ‘too unstable that it was likely to fall’. The bell was removed as a precaution.

The school where John taught was built in 1637. In the agreement to build the school it was stipulated that it should have ‘walles made to be in length eight yards within the walles, four yards and three quarters breadth within the house and four yards and a half in the side walls and to make sufficient chimney in the end of the aforesaid house from the ground of strand, and a flue’.

An article in the Troutbeck Parish Magazine of 1984 tells us:

Troutbeck School had an ancient foundation in 1637. By a piece of good fortune, exact details of the building specifications and names of the builders still exist. £5 a year was allocated to pay a master to instruct in ”English, Latin, Greek writing, Arithmetick and good disciplining” for which the parents paid sixpence a Quarter, although poor children were taught free. During the reign of Charles II, all the teaching became free, making Troutbeck one of the first free schools in the country. In 1760 a stable was built at the school for the use of those who came to church on horseback. The school was rebuilt in 1853, and then at a cost of £258, raised by public subscription and a sale of work, in 1885 it was approximately its present size.

George Joyce collected entries from Troutbeck school’s note book. Here are some I like:

One day the door was suddenly burst open, a rough head was protruded into the room, and a 72 loud voice was heard to say, “Which of you lile divvils left my yett oppen?” The irate farmer’s sheep had evidently strayed thro’ the open gate.

One Shrove Tuesday the children barred the door against the master and demanded a half holiday. This was a breach of discipline, but as there was no other harm done they got their holiday according to custom.

Many children absent—Sheepshearing—only 3 boys attended.

Snow falling heavily all day, consequently the geography lesson was omitted.

An hour lost through scholars being permitted to go hunting.

A liberal amount of cane has been dealt out this week to check a greater amount of talking than usual.

Such was the life of curate and schoolmaster John Grisedale.

Troutbeck Village

Troutbeck Village

1569 was just another year in the turbulent history of England. But all was not well in the realm of Elizabeth 1 in the eleventh year of her reign. Catholic magnates continued to plot against her, hoping to install her Catholic half-sister Mary Queen of Scots in her place. A year before, after suffering a military defeat at the Battle of Langside, Mary had landed in Workington, Cumberland, but been taken prisoner by Richard Lowther, who was forced to hand her over in Carlisle, from where she was taken to imprisonment in Bolton Castle.

Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland

Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland

The two leading northern magnates plotting against Elizabeth were Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, and Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland. They were encouraged in their schemes by the Cumberland lord Leonard Dacre, who would later betray them. In November 1569, Percy and Neville rebelled. They wrote to Queen Elizabeth:

We, Thomas, Earl of Northumberland, and Charles, Earl of Westmorland, the Queen’s true and faithful subjects, to all that came of the old Catholic Religion, know ye that we, with many other well-disposed persons, as well of the Nobility as others, have promised our Faith to the Furtherance of this our good meaning. Forasmuch as divers disordered and well-disposed persons about the Queen’s Majesty, have, by their subtle and crafty dealings to advance themselves, overcome in this Realm, the true and Catholic Religion towards God, and by the same abused the Queen, disordered the Realm, and now lastly seek and procure the destruction of the Nobility; We, therefore, have gathered ourselves together to resist by force, and the rather by the help of God and you good people, to see redress of these things amiss, with the restoring of all ancient customs and liberties to God’s Church, and this noble Realm; lest if we should not do it ourselves, we might be reformed by strangers, to the great hazard of the state of this our country, whereunto we are all bound. God save the Queen.

Their revolt is often called rather misleadingly the Rising of the North. The alternative name The Revolt of the Northern Earls is more apt. They hoped to put Mary on the throne. With their retainers they marched on Durham and then south to Bramham Moor. ‘Elizabeth struggled to raise forces sufficient to confront them. But hearing of a large force being raised by the Earl of Sussex the rebels abandoned plans to besiege York and captured Barnard Castle instead. They proceeded to Clifford Moor, but found little popular support. Sussex marched out from York on 13 December 1569 with 7,000 men against the rebels’ 4,600, and was followed by 12,000 men under Baron Clinton. The rebel earls retreated northward and finally dispersed their forces, fleeing into Scotland’. Percy was hung for treason in 1672, while Neville died in poverty in Flanders.

But this is not a story of political and religious plots, counter-plots and battles, fascinating though those are. Here I want to tell a more prosaic tale. It’s about the little-known history of early industry in England. How German miners and smelters brought modern techniques to England and how rural Cumbrian ‘bauern’ (farmers) were drawn into the venture – usually as suppliers to the more advanced Germans. Queen Elizabeth played a pivotal role in this development, as did, in a negative sense, Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland, and as did, in a different way, Leonard Dacre, in his efforts to inherit the barony of Greystoke. But we can also find on the periphery of all this dozens of simple Cumbrian folk, including members of the Matterdale Grisdale clan. Maybe the juxtaposition of national political events, industrial history and one local family might be worth telling?

Queen Elizabeth in 1575

Queen Elizabeth in 1575

Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, had made several attempts to modernize mining and metal extraction/working in England; from which he might derive more money, on top of what he had earlier expropriated through the dissolution of the monasteries. Elizabeth also had made various attempts to attract the industrially advanced Germans to come to England to develop a mining and smelting industry. She hoped to be able to find gold with which to rival the huge gold bonanza being reaped by England’s enemy Spain from her new colonies in South America. Prior to 1564 this was all to no avail. But in that year Elizabeth granted the rights to exploit her ‘royal monopoly’ to an Augsburg firm:

On 10 December 1564, an indenture was made by the Queen on one part, and Thomas Thurland and Daniel Hoechstetter on the other, by which these two were empowered to search, dig, try, roast, and melt all manner of mines and “ures” of gold, silver, copper, and quicksilver, in the counties of York, Lancaster, Cumberland, Westmorland, Cornwall, Devon, Gloucester, and Worcester, and in Wales. The Queen was to have one-tenth of native gold and silver, and one-tenth of gold and silver ore holding 8 lbs. weight in the cwt.; of every cwt. of copper, 2s., or one-twentieth during the first five years, and afterwards 2s. 6d. or one-fifteenth; “and too have the preferment in bying of all Pretious stones or pearls to be found in the woorking of these mines”; also rights over tin and lead.

Daniel Hoechstetter was acting as agent for David Haug, Hans Langnauer & Co., of Augsburg. They were, writes W. G. Collingwood in his Elizabethan Keswick, Extracts from the Original Account Books, 1564-1577, of the German Miners in the Archives of Augsburg (1912),  ‘already great dealers in silks, cloths, and draperies, in groceries and the spices of the East Indies, and like other wealthy business men of the time, in banking and bill discounting. They had widespread branches, reaching from Venice to Antwerp and from Cracow to Lyons; and though not originally interested in mines, they had recently taken over from the successor of the famous Augsburg house of the Fuggers the control of the copper mines of Neusohl in Northern Hungary. One of their branches was at Schwatz, in Tyrol, near Innsbruck, a celebrated mining centre, where silver, copper, and iron were produced ; and we find… that it was from Schwatz that some of the first miners were sent by them to England’.

German surveyors and mining experts arrived in Cumberland and soon started to find sites where they believed the mining of copper, gold, silver and lead could profitably be started. German managers continually informed Queen Elizabeth of their progress. In April 1565 Hoechstetter had invented a new engine for draining mines, patented in 1568, and he applied for the “privilege of waterworks”, offering to form a company and allot shares. The Queen ‘excused the Company from royalties until work should be established’. And after silver was found in copper ore she ‘gave leave to fell timer in her woods’ and to ‘apprehend disorderly persons employed by them’.

In August 1566, a very rich mine was discovered at Newlands, later to be called the Goldscope mine. Thomas Percy, the earl of Northumberland and lord of the local manor, stopped the Germans working by force but only after 600,000 lbs. of ore had been raised. In October Hoechstetter wrote that the Germans had been ‘ill-treated by the English workmen’. ‘He said that Leonard Stoultz had been murdered by one Fisher and his accomplices.’ This information was passed to the Queen, who, ever desirous to gain a profit from the venture, wrote to Lord Scrope, the Lord Warden of the Western Marches, and to the Justices of the Peace of Westmorland and Cumberland, ‘bidding them repress the assaults, murders, and outrages on the Almain (German) miners lately come there for the purpose of searching for and working minerals’.

Goldscope Mines today

Goldscope Mines today

Early the next year William Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief adviser and Secretary of State, together with the earls of Pembroke and Leicester wrote to the earl of Northumberland ‘requiring him to allow Thurland and Hechstetter, or their assigns, to carry away ore dug at Newlands’. The Queen herself also commanded Northumberland to ‘offer no further obstruction to the miners at Newlands’, and that ‘any lawful claim he may have in the minerals shall be reserved to him’. But the earl thought that any minerals found at Newlands belonged to him. He had, he wrote to the Queen ‘ascertained beyond doubt that the minerals dug at Newlands belong to him only, and that the workers are trespassing on his land’. He requested the Queen, the Lord Treasurer, Sir Walter Mildmay, Lord Chief Baron, and other Barons of the Exchequer, ‘that the injunction respecting the ore dug on his land at Newlands may be dissolved’. The stand-off dragged on and it was important who won because Northumberland’s opposition to Queen Elizabeth wasn’t just about religion, it was about money as well! In September of 1567 Thurland could write to the Queen that they ‘had at length attained to the making of fine and perfect copper’. He sent a specimen. He added that ‘they only want workmen’ and that ‘they desire a conclusion between the Queen and Northumberland’.  Collingwood commented wryly on the Earl of Northumberland’s rebellion: ‘Next year Northumberland led the hasty and fatal Rising of the North, and escaped only into prison in Scotland. But it is interesting to observe that while he was plotting against Queen Elizabeth, and planning to put Queen Mary on the throne, he was letting his woods on Derwentwater to the Royal Company for their building purposes and selling them charcoal..’

On May 25th 1568, the Charter for the Governors, Assistants, and Commonalty of the Mines Royal was signed; authorizing the election of two governors, four deputy-governors, and six assistants…

In October 1568, the Earl wrote to William Cecil requesting ‘a final answer whether he is to have a reasonable composition for the mines or not; otherwise he must assert his right and title to them’. The argument was finally and definitively settled when: ‘The matter went before all the judges and the barons of the Exchequer. It was decided by a majority that as there was more gold and silver in these mines than copper and lead the Queen was within her rights in claiming them ; and this remained the leading case regarding Royal rights in mines until the time of William III.’

The Royal Mines in Keswick in 1576

The Royal Mines in Keswick in 1576

All this palaver had not stopped the Germans from continuing their work: digging the mines and building smelters at Keswick. The ore from Newlands was carried over to the shores of Lake Derwentwater and then transferred by boat to Keswick. Pretty soon nearly a dozen mines had been dug in the area; at, for example, Borrowdale, Stonycroft, Fornside, Grasmere, Newlands, Minersputt, and Buttermere. Keswick itself became the smelting centre. ‘The woodlands in the area were decimated to provide charcoal, needed for fuel in the smelting process.’ With a great deal of belief in the benefits of ‘progress’, a later writer wrote: ‘Although the valleys were denuded of trees… prosperity was brought to many whose previous existence had been limited to scraping a living from fell farming or simple rural trades’; a debatable view at best.

Ian Tyler writes: ‘In 1569, the acquisition of Derwent Island by the Company of Mines Royal provided the miners with somewhere safe to live and form a community. At 250 yards long and 170 wide, the island soon became a veritable German colony, with its own bakery, pigsty, windmill and orchard. Evidence is too scanty to prove that the miners moved to the island because of hostility from local people, however having an area to themselves must have relieved tension between the two groups.’

Derwent Island

Derwent Island

Most of the mining and smelting work was undertaken by the skilled Germans, although Englishmen were later employed as well. In general the English were used as fetchers and ‘carriers’. The surviving Augsburg account books of the Company, translated and edited by Collingwood, list all the payments made for such things as carpentry, wood and boards, smithy and iron, tallow, charcoal, stone coal, building, sacking and the carriage of peat and many more necessary industrial supplies. The names of the English (and German) workmen and carriers are listed as well. There are dozens of local English names, a veritable catalogue of local Cumberland families in the sixteenth century. Just one of these families (and not the most important) were the Grisdales of Matterdale.

Once the mines and the smelters were fully up and running in 1569, we find a certain John Grysdall mentioned twice. In the August 1569 accounts – the Germans did accounts seven times a year- John is listed as a ‘peat carrier’. He received payment for delivering 3 hundred (loads) of peat from ‘Flasco’ (Flaska near Troutbeck in north Matterdale) to the copper smelter at Keswick. He did the same again later in the year. And in 1571 an Edward Gristal (Grisdale) of Threlkeld was also paid as a peat carrier for deliveries from Flasco.

In the middle of 1567 the Company began keeping its own carts and horses, for building and for carriage of special articles close to Keswick; but this did not supersede the use of English packhorses for charcoal, peat, ore, and a little later for stone-coal.

While one can imagine why charcoal was needed for the smelting of ore, what was the peat for? Chemistry, Society, and Environment: A New History of the British Chemical Industry (ed. Colin A. Russell et al, Royal Society, 2000) explains:

Copper ore was mined and smelted at Brigham, near Keswick in Cumberland, under the auspices of the Company of Mines royal… The sulphide ores used at Keswick were subjected to preliminary roasting to burn off excess sulphur, and then treated with nine horseloads of peat and five horseloads of ‘stone coals’ (a horseload was equivalent to 109 litres). Limestone was added as a flux and after smelting a matte or “green stock” was run off. Subsequently, about eight days’ recovery of matte was roasted with six peat fires, each hotter than the last, to produce “copper stone” or “black copper”. This was smelted once a month to give “rough copper”, and involved three separate smelting with lead ore to extract the silver from the copper matte. This process of making copper at Keswick took eighteen weeks and five days.

So that’s all clear then!

Do we know anything more of the ‘peat carriers’ John and Edward Grysdall? Maybe a little, but not much. Unlike the rich and powerful, our records of ordinary people are scant. Matterdale’s parish records don’t start until the early 1630s. The church itself was only founded in 1580 at the request of the people of Matterdale, due to the difficulty in bad winter weather in reaching the parish church in Greystoke to bury their dead and baptize their children. Yet there are in fact quite a few records of the Grisdales of Matterdale in the sixteenth century. There are the very incomplete records of births, marriages and deaths of Greystoke (which continued to be used frequently by Matterdale residents even after they had a local church). There are various surviving wills and there are a few mentions of the Grisdale family as free tenants of the barony of Greystoke going back to 1524. Also, when the local militia was called out in 1581, nine Grisdale ‘bowmen’ of military age from Matterdale turned up in Penrith: John, William, Christopher, Robert, Edward, Richard and three named Thomas.

Douthwaite Head

Douthwaite Head

In the vast majority of cases the sixteenth-century Grisdales are listed as living in Dowthwaite Head. Clearly this was where the family had originally settled. Around the time that John and Edward Grysdall were lugging peat on their packhorses from Penrith to the smelters at Keswick, we find Robert, Christopher, Edward, Thomas, Richard and two John Grisdales, all with one exception living at Dowthwaite Head. The one exception is of great interest.

We find Jane the wife of John ‘Grysdell’ of Dowthwaite Head being buried at Greystoke church in 1575, and his daughter Janet buried at the same place in 1576. This John himself was also buried in Greystoke on 4 June 1579. This might be our ‘peat carrier’ of 1569. But there is another possibility. On 8 May 1568, the unnamed wife of John Grysdell of ‘the Hollesse of Matterdale’ was buried at Greystoke and his son ‘Rolland son of John Grysdell of Matterdale’ was buried there in 1573. So there were obviously two John Grisdales alive at the time. This John of ‘the Hollesse’ left a will in 1581. It’s interesting to note that this is the first mention of ‘the Hollesse’ in reference to the Grisdale clan. This farm was later called ‘Hollas’ or ‘the Hollas’ and is today called the ‘Hollows’. The Hollas Grisdales were certainly related to the main branch in Dowthwaite Head, though the precise relationship is lost beyond reconstruction. The Hollas family included one of the first ‘clerks’, or curates, of Matterdale Church, another John, and, later, a certain Wilfred Grisdale who made his fortune as a brewer in London and became a ‘lord of the manor’ near Cockermouth.

What about the Edward Grysdall, the Threlkeld peat carrier of 1571? He was most likely an Edward Grisdale who had recently moved from Dowthwaite Head to nearby Threlkeld. His wife was buried in Greystoke Church in 1561 and two of his children were also buried there in 1563 and 1569, all said to be of Dowthwaite Head.

A later Copper Smelter

A later Copper Smelter

For some time the Keswick smelters continued to thrive under their excellent German management. More Germans arrived and more English were employed. Despite the initial antagonism, the English and Germans married and merged. Yet in 1670 Sir Daniel Fleming wrote: ‘The smelting-houses were so many that they looked like a little town, yet now there is but one house.’ In 1675 Edmund Sandford wrote: ‘Heer was the bravest water mille of the dutch invented. Daniel and Manuell came from bejond seas in Queen Elizabeths Time for the smelting and fining of Copper Ore, gott in the mountains heer about ; but now the woods are gone and the work decayed.’

What had become of the Keswick smelting works? I’ll let Collingwood explain in his own inimitable words:

In 1604, James I granted a charter confirmatory to the Company, including the names of Emanuel and Daniel, sons of the late Daniel Hechstetter. The Keswick mines survived them both, though Joseph, son of Emanuel, lived to see the wreck of the Smelthouses, which he managed in his turn, at the Civil Wars. It is usually said that this was perpetrated in 1651 by Cromwell’s army on the march from Edinburgh to Worcester. But General Lambert’s troops took Penrith in June, 1648, and Colonel Ashton’s forces came in September of that year to raise the siege of Cockermouth Castle. There were several opportunities, without casting the usual blame on Cromwell, for Parliament men to attack the headquarters of a royal monopoly. How far it deserved attack is quite another matter.

Seventeenth Century Plague

Seventeenth Century Plague

But just before the destruction of the Keswick smelters another tragedy hit the town. The Plague struck. It broke out in May 1646 and over the next few months it claimed hundreds of lives in this small town. Those who died included, in the space of 12 days, six members of the Grisdale family. But that’s another story.

The introduction in Elizabethan times of modern German mining and metal smelting technology into Cumberland (and indeed in to England as a whole) certainly added to the almost total deforestation of the present-day Lake District. This started when the Norse-Irish Vikings arrived in the tenth century and accelerated considerably when large-scale upland sheep farming granges were established by the Norman priories in the century or so following the Conquest of 1066 and the Norman takeover of Cumberland in 1092. The area around Derwentwater was particularly affected. In 1777, Joseph Nicholson and Richard Burn rhapsodized in their History and Antiquities of the Counties of Westmorland and Cumberland about:

Sacred woods and groves, which had for ages shaded the shores and promontories of that lovely lake. Where the rude axe with heaved stroke was never heard the nymphs to daunt. Or fright them from their hallowed haunt.

We have moved from the great fight for the religion and governance of England between Elizabeth 1 and Mary Queen of Scots, through the rebellion of the Catholic English earls and the beginning of German-inspired industry, to some simple Cumbrian peat carriers. One final link is worth noting. Leonard Dacre, who had conspired with the northern earls to overthrow Queen Elizabeth, was a member of the family that had become the barons of Greystoke in the very early 1300s when the original Norse lineage founded by Forne Sigulfson had died out. Matterdale has always been a part of the barony of Greystoke. Leonard was very unhappy when his nephew George Dacre had accidentally died as a child on 17 May 1569  by the fall off a wooden vaulting-horse.

Greystoke Castle

Greystoke Castle

George was then in ward to Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and his three sisters, co-heiresses to his estates, were married to the three sons of their guardian, the Duke of Norfolk. Leonard Dacre felt angry and slighted that a large patrimony should legally descend to his nieces.

On the outbreak of the rebellion of 1569, Dacre went to court, and Queen Elizabeth, although she had heard that he had been secretly associated with the rebel earls, saw him at Windsor. He professed himself to be a faithful subject, and returned to the north avowedly as an adherent of Elizabeth, but really with the intention of joining the rebels. Their disorderly flight from Hexham convinced him that their cause was desperate. He therefore tried to consolidate a position, seized Greystoke Castle and other houses belonging to the Dacre family, and fortified Naworth Castle as his own inheritance. Under pretence of protecting his own and resisting the rebels, he gathered together three thousand troops, borderers and Dacre loyalists.

And a few of these 3,000 troops were no doubt members of the Grisdale family of Matterdale. It’s a long story, but eventually Dacre’s troops fought Elizabeth’s loyalist forces at Naworth in 1570. Elizabeth forces were ‘outnumbered by a factor of two, but charged Dacre’s foot with… cavalry, killed between three and four hundred of the rebels, and took between two and three hundred prisoners. Dacre escaped’. He died in poverty in Brussels in 1573. The barony of Greystoke passed to the Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk.

 

 

Visitors to Ullswater in Cumberland today might take a walk to the waterfall called Aira Force and nearby Lyulph’s Tower, both situated in lovely Gowbarrow Park on the lake’s shore. It is a place that William Wordsworth visited often. It is believed that he was so taken with the beauty of Gowbarrow that it inspired him to write his most famous poem, The Daffodils:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

lyulph's tower

Lyulph’s Tower today

The present Lyulph’s Tower was built as a hunting lodge by Charles Howard, the 11th Duke of Norfolk, in the 1780s, on top of the original Pele Tower. It was a good site for hunting. One visitor a century before commented that it ‘contained more deer than trees’.

From that dim period when ‘ the whole of Britain was a land of uncleared forest, and only the downs and hill-tops rose above the perpetual tracts of wood,’  down to nearly the end of the eighteenth century, red deer roamed wild over Cumberland.

It was around this time, in the late seventeenth- century, that John Grisdale became the tenant farmer of nearby Gowbarrow Hall. He was what was known in Cumberland as a ‘statesman’ – a well-to-do yeoman farmer. John was the son of Robert Grisdale of Crookwath in the next door parish of Matterdale. John is mentioned in his father’s will in 1694 and in the same year the jurors of Watermillock (where Gowbarrow lay) ordered that: “John Grisedale of Gowberry Hall doe take ye water out of the Highway at Cowclose foot that it do not stand in the Highway….”,  on ‘paine’ of paying three shillings and four pence.

Gowbarrow Hall

Gowbarrow Hall

This branch of the Matterdale Grisdales was to remain at Gowbarrow Hall, and in Watermillock in general, throughout the eighteenth-century and beyond. I might write more about the family at a later date.

Here, however, I want to go back a little further in time, to the late eleventh and early twelfth-century, to the years following the Norman Conquest. It’s the story of the Barony and Manor of Greystoke, in which both Matterdale and Watermillock lie, as well as being a story of one family’s accommodation with the Norman invaders. This family became the future Lords of Greystoke. I will return to the question of the roots of this family in a subsequent article – were they already ‘magnates’ before the Conquest or were their origins more humble? But first, who was the ‘Cumbrian’ woman who became a king’s mistress? And which king?

Her name was Edith Forne Sigulfson, the daughter of Forne, the son of Sigulf. The king with whom she consorted was Henry I, the son of William the Bastard, better known as William the Conqueror. Henry succeeded to the English throne in 1100 on the death of his brother William II (Rufus).

Henry the First

Henry the First

All kings have taken mistresses, some even have had harems of them. It was, and is, one of the privileges and prerogatives of power. In England the king who took most advantage of this opportunity was the French-speaking Henry I. As well as having two wives, Henry had at least 10 mistresses, by whom he had countless children. How and when Edith and Henry met we will never know. What we do know is that they had at least two children: Adeliza Fitz-Edith, about whom nothing is known, and Robert Fitz-Edith (son of Edith), sometimes called Robert Fitz-Roy (son of the king), who the king married off with Matilda d’Avranches, the heiress of the barony of Oakhampton in Devon.

King Henry seems to have treated his mistresses or concubines better than some of the later English kings (think for instance of his name-sake Henry VIII ). When Henry tired of Edith he married her to Robert D’Oyly (or D’Oiley), the nephew of Robert d’Oyly,  a henchman of William the Conqueror, who had been with William at Hastings and who built Oxford Castle in 1071.

When Oxford closed its gates against the Conqueror, and he had stormed and taken the city, it followed that he should take measures to keep the people of the place in subjection. Accordingly, having bestowed the town on his faithful follower, Robert d’Oilgi, or D’Oiley or D’Oyly, he directed him to build and fortify a strong castle here, which the Chronicles of Osney Abbey tell us he did between the years 1071 and 1073, “digging deep trenches to make the river flow round about it, and made high mounds with lofty towers and walls thereon, to overtop the town and country about it.” But, as was usual with the Norman castles, the site chosen by D’Oyly was no new one, but the same that had been long before adopted by the kings of Mercia for their residence; the mound, or burh, which was now seized for the Norman keep had sustained the royal house of timber in which had dwelt Offa, and Alfred and his sons, and Harold Harefoot. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)

Oxford Castle

Oxford Castle

Henry also gave Edith the manor of Steeple Claydon in Buckinghamshire as a dower in her own name. After the original Robert D’Oyly had died in 1090, his younger brother Nigel succeeded him as Constable of Oxford and baron of Hook Norton (i.e. Oxford). Despite the fact that the sixteenth-century chronicler John Leland commented: ‘Of Nigel be no verye famose things written’, in fact he ‘flourished during the reign of William Rufus and officiated as constable of all England under that King’. On Nigel’s death in 1112, his son Robert – by now very probably already Edith’s husband – became the third baron of Hook Norton, the constable of Oxford Castle and, at some point, King’s Henry’s constable.

Several children were soon born to Edith and Robert, including two sons Gilbert and Henry. Edith it seems was both a ‘very beautiful’ and a very pious woman. Some historians believe that she was remorseful and penitent because of her previous life as King Henry’s concubine. Whatever the truth of this, in 1129 she persuaded her husband Robert to found  and endow the Church of St. Mary, in the Isle of Osney, near Oxford Castle. The church would become an abbey in 1149. The story is interesting. Sir John Peshall in The History of Oxford University in 1773 wrote:

Edith, wife of Robert D’Oiley, the second of this name, son of Nigel, used to please herself living with her husband at the castle, with walking here by the river side, and under these shady trees; and frequently observing the magpies gathered together on a tree by the river, making a great chattering, as it were, at her, was induced to ask Radilphus, a Canon of St. Frid, her confessor, whom she had sent to confer upon this matter, the meaning of it.

“Madame”, says he, “these are not pyes; they are so many poor souls in purgatory, uttering in this way their complaints aloud to you, as knowing your extensive goodness of disposition and charity”; and humbly hoped, for the love of God, and the sake of her’s and her posterity’s souls, she would do them some public good, as her husband’s uncle had done, by building the Church and College of St. George.

“Is it so indeed”, said she, “de pardieux. I will do my best endeavours to bring these poor souls to rest”; and relating the matter to her husband, did, by her importunities, with the approbation of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, and consent of her sons Henry and Gilbert, prevail on him to begin this building there, where the pyes had sat delivering their complaint.

John Leland, the ‘father of English local history and bibliography’, had told much the same tale in the first half of the sixteenth-century:

Sum write that this was the occasion of making of it. Edith usid to walk out of Oxford Castelle with her Gentilwomen to solace, and that often tymes, wher yn a certan place in a tre as often as she cam a certan pyes usid to gether to it, and ther to chattre, and as it wer to speke unto her. Edithe much marveling at this matier, and was sumtyme sore ferid as by a wonder. Whereupon she sent for one Radulph, a Chanon of S. Frediswide’s, a Man of a vertuus Life and her Confessor, asking hym Counsel: to whom he answerid, after that he had seen the fascion of the Pies Chattering only at her Cumming, that she should builde sum Chirch or Monasterie in that Place. Then she entreatid her Husband to build a Priorie, and so he did, making Radulph the first Prior of it.

Osney Abbey

One historian commented: ‘This is a curiously characteristic story. Edith, whose antecedents may have made her suspicious of reproach, was evidently possessed with the idea that the clamour of the magpies was a malicious mockery designed to humiliate and reprove her, and to convey a supernatural warning that she must make speedy atonement for her sins.’ This is, of course, pure conjecture.

Edith even got her son by the king, Robert Fitz-Roy, “Robertus Henrici regis filius”, to contribute to Osney Abbey,  with the consent of his half brother “Henrici de Oleio fratris mei”.

Maybe Edith had found peace in the Abbey she helped create. But England was to soon experience another bout of armed thugs fighting armed thugs, fighting that would come very close to Edith. When Henry 1 died in 1135 without a legitimate son he bequeathed his kingdom to his daughter the Empress Matilda (or Maude), the widow of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, who had since married Geoffrey of Anjou. Aware of the problems with a woman becoming Queen, in 1127 and 1128 Henry had made his court swear allegiance to Matilda; this included Stephen of Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror. But when Henry died Matilda was in Rouen. ‘Stephen of Blois rushed to England upon learning of Henry’s death and moved quickly to seize the crown from the appointed heir.’ Remember, this was a French not an English family! A war followed between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda.

King Stephen captured at Lincoln

King Stephen captured at Lincoln

But what about Edith and her husband Robert in Oxford? King Stephen tried various inducements to get Robert D’Oyly on his side, but Robert remained loyal to Matilda.  Sir James D. Mackenzie wrote:

The second Robert D’Oyly, son to Nigel, the brother of the founder, who succeeded his uncle, and founded the monastery of Osney, nearby, took part against Stephen, and delivered up his castle of Oxford to the Empress Maud for her residence. She accordingly came here with great state in 1141, with a company of barons who had promised to protect her during the absence of her brother, the Earl of Gloucester, in France, whither he had gone to bring back Prince Henry. Gloucester and Stephen had only recently been exchanged against each other, the Earl from Rochester and Stephen from Bristol, and the latter lost no time in opening afresh the civil war, by at once marching rapidly and unexpectedly to Oxford. Here he set fire to the-town and captured it. He then proceeded to shut up closely and to besiege Maud in the castle, from Michaelmas to Christmas, trying to starve out her garrison, whilst from two high mounds which lie raised against the keep, the one called Mount Pelham, and the other Jew’s Mount, he constantly battered the walls and defences with his engines of war, which threw stones and bolts.

Maud, who was a mistress of stratagems and resources—she had escaped from Winchester Castle on a swift horse, by taking advantage of a pretended truce on account of the ceremonies of Holy Cross, and had at Devizes been carried through the enemies lines dressed out as a corpse in a funeral procession—was equal to the occasion when provisions failed. Taking advantage of a keen frost which had frozen over the Isis, she issued one night from a postern, and crossed the river on the ice, accompanied only by three faithful followers. The country being covered with deep snow, they wore white garments over their clothes, and succeeded in eluding their enemies, walking through the snow six long miles to Abingdon. Here a horse was obtained for the Empress, and the party got safely next morning to Wallingford Castle. After her escape, Oxford Castle was yielded to Stephen the next day.

It seems that Robert D’Oyly didn’t long survive these events, but it is still unclear whether he died at King Stephen’s instigation or not. Edith survived him and lived on until 1152. ‘Cumbrian’ Edith Forne Sigulfson, concubine of a king, married to a Norman nobleman, was buried in Osney Abbey. When John Leland visited in the early sixteenth-century, on the eve of its dissolution, he saw her tomb:

‘Ther lyeth an image of Edith, of stone, in th’ abbite of a vowess, holding a hart in her right hand, on the north side of the high altaire’.

The dream of magpies was painted near the tomb. ‘Above the arch over her tomb there was painted on the wall a picture representing the foundation legend of the Abbey, viz. The magpies chattering on her advent to Oseney; the tree; and Radulphe her confessor; which painting, according to Holinshed, was in perfect preservation at the suppression of religious houses (in the time of ) Henry VIII.’

We’ve come a long way from the shores of distant Ullswater. So let’s return there briefly. It is certain that Edith was the daughter of Forne Sigulfson. Forne was the holder of lands in Yorkshire (for example in Nunburnholme) in 1086 when the Domesday survey was taken. Whether he was also already a landowner in Cumberland at that time is unknown because Cumbria was not included in Domesday Book, for the very simple reason that at the time it was under the Scottish crown.

But Forne certainly became the first ‘Norman’ baron of Greystoke in Henry I’s time. The Testa de Nevill in 1212 reads:

Robert de Veteri Ponte holds in custody from the King the land which was of William son of Ranulf, together with the heir of the aforesaid William, and renders annually of cornage £4. King Henry, grandfather of the King’s father, gave that land to Forne son of Siolf, predecessor of the aforesaid William, by the aforesaid service.

Greystoke Castle

Greystoke Castle

Some historians have suggested that this was actually a reconfirmation of Forne’s existing holdings and rights – whether originally granted by Ranulf le Meschin, who had been given titular control of Cumbria sometime after the Conquest, or possibly his rights went back to his father Sigulf in pre-conquest days. This is a subject to which I will return. What is clear is that Forne’s son Ivo was the founder of Greystoke Castle. He built the first defensive tower there in 1129. The family received permission to castellate the tower in 1338. Forne’s ‘Greystoke’ family, as it became known, continued to be Lords of Greystoke in a direct male line until 1306, when more distant relatives succeeded to the title: first the Grimesthorps, then the Dacres and then, in 1571, the Howards.

Was Edith even Cumbrian? We don’t know. Quite possibly she could have been born in Yorkshire on her father’s lands there. In any case, Edith was a northern Anglo-Saxon. We don’t even know when she was born, although I think that the evidence points to her being slightly younger than King Henry, who was born in about 1068, probably in Yorkshire. So maybe Edith was born in the 1070s or early 1080s. If so she might even have became Henry’s mistress before he became king and married in 1100, or maybe just slightly thereafter.

What of Lyulph’s Tower and Lake Ullswater? It is generally thought that Lyulph refers to Sigulf, (often spelt Sygoolf, Llyuph,Ligulf, Lygulf etc), Forne’s father and Edith’s grandfather. It is even suggested that Ullswater is also named after him: ‘Ulf’s Water’.

I’ll leave all that for another time.

In the early nineteenth-century Hartsop Hall in Patterdale was owned by the Earl of Lonsdale but farmed by yeoman Robert Grisdale, whose family had made the short trip from Dockray in Matterdale to the Patterdale area about a hundred years before. The hall ‘is a very old building’ and ‘was once the seat of a distinguished family, whose arms at one time were to be seen above the doorway’. In 1903, the Rev W. P. Morris, the Rector of Patterdale, wrote: ‘The Lancasters of Sockbridge, one of whom was Provost of Queen’s College, Oxford, held the lands round about Hartsop in the early part of the seventeenth-century. Sir John Lowther acquired the property by marriage, and his descendant, the present Earl of Lonsdale, is now lord of the manor of Hartsop.’ Morris continues:

There is a right of way through the house. It was into this house that the notorious gang of burglars attempted to enter with the intention of murdering the whole family. These desperadoes were the terror not only of the neighbourhood of Patterdale, but also in and about Penrith.

Hartsop Hall, Patterdale

Hartsop Hall, Patterdale

No more information is given regarding the gang’s ‘intention of murdering the whole family’, but Morris adds: ‘Robert Grisdale, the then farmer, was one night riding home on horseback from Cockermouth when he was accosted by two of them when coming through Dockray. He at once perceived what their intentions were, but he showed them his pistol and galloped home in safety. It was not considered safe for any person to be out when darkness had set in. The gang consisted of four men, who went about wearing masks and carrying rifles and pistols.’

Morris briefly tells of how the gang was caught, but there is a much fuller and more colourful account given in 1894 by William Furness in his History of Penrith from the Earliest Record to the Present Time. I will quote it in full:

‘A notorious gang of highwaymen and burglars infested the neighbourhood in the early years of the century, and were the terror of the country people, especially those of the villages west and south of Penrith. The names were John Woof, (Woof was taught to thieve by his mother, who put him through a staircase window, at Melkinthorpe, to rob a poor old woman of a few shilling she had saved.) Melkinthorpe; William Armstrong, Eamont Bridge; John Little alias Sowerby, Clifton Dykes; and William Tweddle, Penrith. Woof was a small farmer, Armstrong a labourer, Sowerby a swill maker, and Tweedle a labourer. For eighteen months prior to their arrest scarcely a Tuesday passed but some person, returning from Penrith market, was robbed, and in some instances left bleeding and senseless on the highway, for these scoundrels were not deterred from employing any ruffianly violence to secure their object. They went so far, in one case at least, as to dig a grave beforehand for their intended victim. This was done in Bessy Ghyll Wood, near Thrimby, for a farmer, who was attending Shap fair, and was expected to have a good sum of money with him, as a result of his sales. They had stretched a wire across the road just high enough to drag a rider from his horse, and lay waiting for their victim. Not appearing about the time that they had calculated he should, they went off in search of him. In the meantime, the farmer had providentially remembered that he had a call to make at Little Strickland, and therefore turned off the main road at Shap Beck Gate, to gain his home and make his call on the way. He had barely made his call when he found the attentions of several men were being paid him. Guessing who these individuals were, he put spurs to his steed to widen the distance between himself and his pursuers, that he might have time to open the gates that lay between him and Sheriff Park farm house. The fold gate was gained, but his pursuers were almost upon him, when a lucky idea entered his head and was instantly acted upon. He called for help, which was at one replied to, and his pursuers stopped short; he opened the gate, roused the household, and was safe. Little did these desperadoes think that the farmer both called for help and replied to the call – but in a changed voice.

Burglaries also were of common occurrence, and were carried out by masked men armed with swords and pistols.

Dockray - where Robert's family came from and where he met the robbers

Dockray – where Robert’s family came from and where he met the robbers

Under these circumstances it was considered unsafe for any man, known to have money upon him, to be out after nightfall. The occupants of houses in lonely and secluded places feared to retire to rest, unless they had a good staff of servants and plenty of defensive weapons. Least the burglars should surprise them in the night. No wonder then that the whole district was terror stricken, and that the country people hurried home form market before darkness and robbers overtook them. A relative of the writer, living at Gowbarrow Hall, had been to the Market, at Penrith, and was returning, on horseback, in the evening, when he was accosted by four men, near to Tynefield, who demanded his “money or his life”. Finding one man at this horses bridle, one on each side of him, and one on the look-out, he quietly handed up his pocket book, and was allowed to proceed, after being asked if he knew them, and made a promise that he would not follow them nor prosecute them at the imminent peril of being shot. Thinking they might be disappointed with the contents of the book, as he had only part of his cash in it, and that they might pursue and murder him in the road home, he turned in at the Bee Hive Inn, Eamont Bridge, and ordered stabling for his horse for the night, and a bed for himself, and comfortably placed himself in a cosy seat in the chimney corner. He had not been long there when amongst those who dropped in he recognised one of his assailants, who not recognising the person in the corner seat, forthwith began to tell of the latest robbery by the brutal gang of masked robbers. This ruse was adopted by the whole four, at their various resorts, to throw off suspicion from themselves, and to get to know what the public opinion of the robbers was. A price was put upon the robbers, and advertisements proclaimed the reward for their apprehension, but to no effect.

The alarm in Penrith was so great that the inhabitants voluntarily revived the “Watch and Ward” to guard the town, as in the days of border warfare. A list of names was published of householders who were willing to act, and everyone on the list served in turn, except a few gentlemen and few women householders, who obtained substitutes at 2s.6d. per night. The watchers were four each night and their rendezvous was the Ship marketing room. Each watchman, while on duty, was supplied with a rattle, and armed with a bludgeon.

Old Penrith

Old Penrith

The detection and apprehension of the gang was due Mt T Robinson, of Kings Meaburn, who had been robbed by them and beaten on the highway, but recognised one of the gang as William Tweddle, who was immediately arrested, at Penrith, and lodged in the House of Correction. This member of the gang, fearing the consequences to his own neck, turned King’s evidence and disclosed the whole proceedings of the gang. This led to the immediate arrest of Woof and Armstrong, (As Armstrong was being taken to the House of Correction, he was seen by an acquaintance named Mary Bowerbank, who accosted him thus: “I’se sorry to see thee theer, Will.” He replied: “I’ll sune clear mesel, Mary, me lass.” This incident shows how little he was suspected by neighbours and acquaintances.) But Sowerby, hearing of Tweddle’s apprehension and confession, escaped to Newcastle, where he was subsequently arrested, passing himself off as John Smith. Sowerby, Woof, and Armstrong were committed to the Assizes at Carlisle held in August 1820.

The charges against these men were numerous, but the only one they were tried upon for “burglarously breaking and entering the house of John Wilson, of Soulby, in the parish of Dacre, about ten o’clock on the night of 22ndDecember, 1819, and taking therefrom five notes of the value of £1. Or one guinea each, and four webs of cloth, the property of the said John Wilson.” Mr Rain, who acted for the prosecution, having briefly stated the case to the jury, proceeded to call witnesses. The first was Margaret Wilson, who stated that she was “wife of John Wilson; lived at Soulby, a lone house about a quarter of the mile from all others. A man came to the house on the night of 22ndDecember, and asked his way to Mark’s; others came after, and made a noise’ this was about ten o’clock. She asked what they wanted, and they said the £100 which her husband had got form the bank at Penrith, the day before. She said it was not there; they said it was, and would have it, and if she did not immediately open the door they would blow her brains out. She begged of them not to be so rough; said her daughter would give them what money they had out of the window; they replied they would not have it that way, and if they did not open the door it would be worse for them, as they knew how to get in. Witness’s husband went down, thinking it would be better, as they could make no resistance. She then opened the door. When four men rushed in; three had on smock-frocks, the fourth had on a coloured overcoat; two had pistols, two swords, and they all wore masks, but could not say what kind they were. They then asked for money, and her daughter gave them her husband’s pocket book, which contained five notes. They asked for the £100; she said her husband had left it at Penrith. They asked for the keys, and got them, and her daughter Mary went upstairs with two of them, and the other drove the family up. Her daughter did not see any of them, as she was ill in bed, but the servant saw them. Two of them searched the drawers and took 20s. in silver; they then went into another room where a chest was standing locked. They ordered her to open it, or they would break it open. They then took out three webs of linen cloth, three of tow, and one of line; then they proceeded to the servant’s room, searched her box, and took out what silver there was – 7s, or 8s. They asked her what she had been doing thirty years, to have no more than that. They took her umbrella, and went downstairs, and asked for four bottles of rum. She said she had none, and then asked if she had no liquor; she said, perhaps a little gin, and went into the parlour to get it, when two men followed her. When she took out the gin, the two reached over and took two bottles of wine and another took the gin. They then went in to the kitchen and asked for ale; she went to bring a bottle, when one of them followed her, and took another. They then demanded bread and cheese, and got it. Previous to their departure, one of them presented a sword to her breast, and drew it across her neck, as an obligation of an oath that they had got all there was in the house, and said if she would give them more money they would give back the webs; but she again said they had got all that came from Penrith. One of them asked her daughter if she knew them; to which she replied, she did not know whether she had seen them before; and he added, ‘No! and I hope you never will again.’ One of them said, on going away: ‘Go night, Mrs Wilson; we know you well enough.’ They ordered the family no to leave the house till morning. She found that two of the doors were fastened also. They made endeavours to get out, but could not, and it was eight o’clock in the morning when they were let out by a servant man.”

William Tweddle was then called, and corroborated Mrs Wilson’s evidence as to the robbery, He further said he “had known Armstrong since they were boys, Little about two years, and Woof since a boy, but the last two or three years in particular. Remembered going to Wilson’s. Armstrong proposed it, as it was likely house to get money. Woof had no mask, but the rest had black ones. Woof had nothing to disguise his face with his coat. After leaving the Wilson’s they went to Little’s house, at Clifton Dykes, where, with the assistance of Little’s wife, the booty was equally divided. He gave the information after being apprehended for stopping Thomas Robinson, of King’s Meaburn.”

James Anderson, constable, Penrith, stated that “in consequence of the information he got from Tweedle, he went to the house where Woof got his meat, and in a box, which the mistress of the house said was his, he found some pieces of cloth, one of which was marked with the words ‘John Wilson: 47 yards.’”

Several other witnesses gave corroborative evidence, after which the judge summed up, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty. The judge, in sentencing them to death, held out no hope of mercy.

Carlisle English Gate and Old Gaol

Carlisle English Gate and Old Gaol

They occupied one cell, between the condemnation and execution, and their behaviour during these days was of a shocking character. The execution – the last at the old gaol – took place on Saturday September 2nd, 1820, at the south angle of the gaol. Even at the gallows they behaved unseemly, and one of them spat in the face of the executioner. (The librarian at the Free Library, Mr John Stuart, witnesses their execution, and distinctly remembers it, though he was but a lad at the time, and witnessed the scene from his father’s shoulder.)

Tweedle was transported to Van Diemen’s Land, and eventually joined a gang of desperados, and is said to have come to a violent end. (The story of Tweedle runs thus: Having got clear away into the bush he joined a gang of freebooters. Some time afterwards, in their leisure time, the gang were recounting their deeds which expatriated them from the old country, and Tweedle was called upon for his story. After recounting his exploits which his comrades, he told of their capture and the execution of three of this gang, whilst he escaped hanging, and was transported, because he turned King’s evidence. “Traitor,” cried the whole gang, and the captain said “since he had escaped his just deserts at home, and they could not tolerate a traitor amongst them, he must suffer the traitor’s doom.” Then the gang seized him and hanged him on the nearest tree.)

Bound For Van Diemen's Land

Bound For Van Diemen’s Land

Armstrong’s sister witnessed the execution, and afterwards begged the body of her brother, which she placed in a cart she had provided for the purpose, and brought it to Barton to bury. The malefactor’s body was exhibited, by the sister, at the public houses between Carlisle and Penrith, to anyone who would pay a penny for the sight, which hundreds did. It is said that when the body was buried in Barton Churchyard, a gap was made in the wall to let the procession into the churchyard, as it could not be permitted to enter by the gate. This act speaks of the superstition of the age.’

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

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

Matterdale Church, Cumberland

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

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

Background to the trials

Matterdale

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

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

The Carlisle trial and the appeal

Hutton John – Andrew Huddleston’s Manor

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

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

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

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

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

The House of Lords

London in 1690

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

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

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

He based his case on his contention that:

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

And that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westermell Fell – Now Great Mell Fell

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

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

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

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

The verdict

The House of Lords in the seventeenth century

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

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

The day before the hearing the Lords ordered that:

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

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

I give the Lords’ verdict in full:

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

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

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

Who were the protagonists and their witnesses?

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

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

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

Brownrigg In Matterdale – Where William Mounsey lived

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

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

What was it all about?

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

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

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

Sheepfold on Hutton Moor

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

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

George Orwell once put it thus:

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

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

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

Deprived of the Commons many Matterdale people ended up here

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

Sources

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

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

As throughout much of its history, Britain at the end of the Napoleonic Wars was an unforgiving and brutal place for ordinary people trying to make a living.  Quite a number chose to emigrate to the New World, to find a better life. The life they found wasn’t always easy, it was often hard in the extreme, but their courage and fortitude often paid off, at least for their descendants. This is the story of one Matterdale man and his family who did just this: Wilfred Grisdale.

The area of North Monaghan in Ontario as Wilfred Grisdale might have first seen it

In the early nineteenth century much of Upper Canada was still a land of virgin forest and lakes. Of course there were natives Indians but in much of Ontario, for example, many of the forests had no settlements. When there was any path at all it was just, as early pioneer Charles Fothergill put it in 1817, “a windy way through the forest made by the Indians”.

One small piece of this vast land became the Township of North Monaghan, which is situated in the southwest corner of what is now known as Peterborough County.

The latest history of the township, published in 1990 by the North Monaghan Historical Research Committee and titled A History and Story of North Monaghan Township 1817-1989, says this:

Prior to 1817,  few humans had set foot on the Township soil or gazed from the Otanabee river at its heavily forested shores.

Although “a few tracks were testimony to the presence of Indian hunting parties in the past”.

But in 1817 the surveyor Samuel Wilmot had already completed the first survey of the area, the land being divided into lots to which early settlers would stakes claims. One of the very first 11 settlers in North Monaghan was a certain Wilfred Grisdale. In 1817, he staked a claim to Lot 4 (East ½) of concession number twelve.

Wilfred and his family are the founders of a veritable Grisdale dynasty in Canada and the United States.

Jenny Hill Farm, Matterdale. Wilfred Grisdale was (probably) born and raised here

Wilfred Grisdale was born in Matterdale in Cumberland in 1782, probably at Jenny Hill Farm. He was the fourth child of the old blacksmith in Dockray, Matterdale: also called Wilfred Grisdale, and his second wife Ruth Slee. Wilfred Senior had been born in 1711 to Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray. He had married Ann Brownrigg in 1733 but the couple had no children. But when Ann died in 1775, Wilfred wasted no time in marrying again. He married a young Ruth Slee (48 years his junior) in 1776, at the age of 65. But children soon followed, six in all: Gideon, Charlotte, Bilhah, Wilfred, Joseph and William. It is this second Wilfred that is the centre of this story.

Wilfred was to marry Jane Bell in the village church of Hutton in the Forest near Carlisle, the Cumberland county town, on the 6th November 1803, aged 21. The family settled in Carlisle itself and seven children followed, all baptized in Saint Mary’s Church, Carlisle: Gideon (1804), Ann (1805), Wilfred (1807), Ruth (1809), James (1812), Jane (1810) and Joseph (1816).

I wrote about Wilfred’s brother Gideon and his ballet dancer daughter in my last article. For parochial interest, his brother William was my 3rd great grandfather.

In 1816, or in early 1817, Wilfred emigrated with his whole family to Canada to start a new life.

We don’t know the precise reasons for the family’s decision or which ship they travelled on to the “New World”, but the Carlisle newspapers of the time were full of advertisements trying to attract people to move to North America offering the prospect of land grants and assistance with the passage. Perhaps Wilfred was attracted by one of these?

Whatever the truth, Wilfred and his family arrived in North Monaghan in Upper Canada in 1817, perhaps following the route taken in 1825 by Peter Robinson who brought many Irish settlers to the area. Robinson had “sailed from Liverpool to New York and proceeded from thence to Toronto by way of Niagara”. Only later were more direct and less “roundabout” routes to Toronto available.

The settlers from the “Old Country” came by boat as far as Cobourg. From there some found their way by ox cart to Rice Lake and then by smaller boats to spots along the Otanabee River. Others walked, carrying their possessions, north through the forest by way of Port Hope.

Once there, there were two methods of staking a land claim:

By lot or by following the surveyors trails until a lot of land which pleased them was found. Taking note of the number and concession from the marked posts of the surveyors, they returned to Port Hope to make the required application to the land agent in order to secure their lot. During this expedition visit, one or more nights had to be spent in the forest.

Where having kindled a fire, they lay down to sleep beneath the branches of a group of trees, wearied and fatigued, and worse, perhaps wet and torn with the mishaps of the journey.

A Pioneer Settler House in Canada

Wilfred had to stake his claim. “The first requisite to procure land in those days was to take an oath of allegiance, on which a certificate was issued as evidence of the fact.” Usually no payment was needed due to the unsettled nature of the area. Once he had staked his claim in North Monaghan in 1817, the hard work began for Wilfred and his wife and young family: clearing the forest, building a rude wooden hut or “shanty” before the onset of winter and trying to grow or procure enough to survive.

We are lucky to have a book written by a Peterborough County man in 1867, called A Sketch of The Early Settlement and Subsequent Progress of the Town of Peterborough and Each Township in the County of Peterborough. This man was Dr Thomas W Poole and he had both experienced much of what he described or, for the very early settlement years, he had relied on first-hand accounts from the surviving first settlers. He writes:

The first settlers… encountered difficulties and privations of which we, in after time, can have but a faint conception. Unaccustomed as many of them were to the new scenes in which they found themselves placed; with scant provisions, and separated by long wastes of wood water from their fellow-kind, their situation, with their wives and little ones must have been at times appalling; and by less indomitable spirits, would have been relinquished in despair.

Wilfred Grisdale was one of these settlers and was, indeed, with his wife and “little ones”. Dr Poole continues the story:

During the first few years, great difficulties were often felt in procuring the necessary provisions with which to support life. These had to be brought all the way from Port Hope or Cobourg, in the most laborious manner, and in the total absence of even the most ordinary roads; the only guide being the “blaze” upon the trees through the interminable forest, in which they seems entombed. Under these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that whole families were often for weeks without tasting bread, and that the herbs and succulent roots of the rich woods were often called into requisition to lengthen out their scanty fare.

But as Dr Poole tells us from the testimony of the settlers themselves:

Gradually the blue smoke from the settler’s shanty, and the tiny opening in the forest, began to appear here and there, at intervals, often of miles between… But the number of shanty fires gradually grew larger, as giant trunk and tender sapling groaned and fell beneath the sturdy strokes of the settler’s axe, then the huge heaps appeared, rolled together by united effort. The flames crackled and roared.

Far away into the gloom of the dark forest shot the gleam of the evening fires, which told that a conqueror had come, and that civilization and the luxuries of comfort and refinement were on the way to cheer and enliven these rude fastnesses of nature, and bid them smile with a new growth and a more prolific harvest. The first rude shanty gave way to a substantial and comfortable mansion. Flocks and herds increased; and as time progressed and the population grew, the rude wilderness became a comparative garden.

Mercifully during the first hard years in Canada all of the Grisdale children survived. Wilfred and Jane even had one more child called Maria born in North Monaghan in about 1822 – the first Grisdale of this family to be born on North American soil.

We can only hope that Wilfred and his wife were able to enjoy the fruits of their labour in the manner evoked by Dr Poole:

Well may the veteran pioneer pause now in the evening of his days and look around on the wonders wrought by time and industry. Proudly may he point to the spot where he first reclined beneath the spreading trees, wet with the morning dew, during that first visit to his future farm, and contrast the scene with the present, with its broad acres and cultivated fields, its neat farm houses and thriftly barns, which he expects soon to leave a rich heritage to his children.

I hope so.

The Grave of Maria Grisdale in Thorold, Ontario. Maria was the first and only Canadian born child of Wilfred Grisdale

We don’t know when Wilfred and his wife Jane died but we do know that his children soon started to move to, and settle in, other parts of Ontario (Upper Canada) as well as across the border into Michigan.

I won’t go into the marriages and children of Wilfred and Jane’s own children here because it would involve writing a book. For those who are interested, please refer to my own family tree on ancestry.com, mentioned in the “About” page of this blog.

What, however, is clear is that there are alive today in Canada and the United States literally hundreds and probably thousands of Grisdales (and others) who owe their existence to the decision of Wilfred and his wife Jane to leave Cumberland, where the family had lived for centuries, and to make the hazardous voyage to Canada to start a new life.

I hope some of Wilfred and Jane’s Canadian or American descendants will write some of the fascinating stories of their children.

Sources

North Monaghan Historical Research Committee, 1990,  A History and Story of North Monaghan Township 1817-1989.

http://www.ourroots.ca/e/page.aspx?id=911774

Thomas W. Poole M.D, Peterborough Review, Peterborough, 1867, A Sketch of The Early Settlement and Subsequent Progress of the Town of Peterborough and Each Township in the County of Peterborough.

http://books.google.fr/books/about/A_sketch_of_the_early_settlement_and_sub.html?id=orMNAAAAQAAJ&redir_esc=y

 

This is the story of a young girl who became a ballet dancer at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London, who married a famous and well-to-do painter, who lived the good life for a while and moved to America. But later poverty and tragedy were to strike and this young girl eked out her final years hawking fish in Falmouth, Cornwall.

Outside Drury Lane Theatre 1820

Because of tight licensing laws in the early nineteenth century there were only two main theatres in London – The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane was one. It was a world where high culture and society met the demimonde. Shakespearean, German and French plays were produced alongside music and romantic ballets. Talented artists were employed to capture scenes from the plays and ballets as well as being commissioned to paint portraits of the leading actors, actresses and dancers – for example of the famous though scandalous and notorious Edmund Kean. Starting in the 1820s one of the most successful and rising of these artists was the young John William Gear (J W Gear). Born in Alverstoke, Hampshire into a very talented and successful Hampshire family, John Gear’s father, Joseph Gear, was both a renowned marine painter and a musician in the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra.

John painted and engraved dozens of scenes from the vibrant life at Drury Lane. In 1824 he even painted the royal family of Hawaii who attended a performance at the theatre during a “state” visit to London.

John William Gear’s painting of the Hawaiian Royal Family at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1824

As mentioned, as well as tragedies the theatre put on romantic or “pastoral” ballets, which usually followed the heavier and more melodramatic fare. There was also what we would now call a “Corps de Ballet”, with principal and supporting dancers. Starting in 1824 one of these dancers was a “Miss Grisdale”. Her full name was Elizabeth Grisdale; though she was known as Minnie. Her name can be found on many of the theatre’s advertising “bills” in the 1820s – for example in 1825 she danced dozens of times in the “pastoral ballet”  The Rossignol – or, The Bird in the Bush. This followed various tragedies such as Macbeth, Der Freischutz and The Merchant of Venice, which featured among others the great Edward Kean and a young James William Wallack (of whom more later). She might have known Joseph Gear as well. The only record I can find that gives some of her (approximate) words is the report of a trial for theft heard at the Old Bailey on the 6th April 1826, it concerns the theft of a pair of Elizabeth’s drawers:

MARGARET HARDING was again indicted for stealing, on the 27th of October, 1 Pair of drawers, value 1s. 6d., the goods of Elizabeth Grisdale, spinster.

ELIZABETH GRISDALE. I belong to Drury-lane Theatre – I was there in October last. The prisoner was a dresser there. These drawers are my property; they were missed from the Theatre on the night after I left them, when I went there to dress – I cannot say when it was.

THOMAS SAMUEL RAVENSCROFT. I am a pawnbroker. I took in these drawers of the prisoner, on the 27th of October – I have known her some time.

GUILTY. Aged 28.

Recommended to Mercy. – Confined Six Months.

Elizabeth was born in the Tower Hamlets in the East End of London and baptized on 5th July 1807 in the Church of Saint George in the East. Her parents were Gideon Grisdale and Elizabeth Jordan. Gideon was a jeweller living in Ship Alley, Well Close, in Tower Hamlets. Interestingly Gideon had also been a party to a trial at the Old Bailey in 1813:

WILLIAM HALL was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 16th of April, a clock, value 5 l. the property of Gideon Grisdale .

JOHN DUNN GARMSAY . I am a clock-maker, in the employ of Mr. Grisdale; I made the clock for Mr. Grisdale; he told me the clock was stolen out of the shop.

Q. Did you afterwards see the clock in the possession of the prisoner – A. No.

JAMES BLAND. I am a silversmith; I live in Norton Falgate. I bought the clock of the prisoner about four months ago; that clock was afterwards claimed to be Mr. Grisdale’s property; I delivered it to Hewitt, the officer. I did not ask him how he came by it, nor he did not tell me.

WILLIAM HEWITT. I am an officer. I produce this clock; it was delivered to me by Mr. Bland; Mr. Garmsay saw the clock in Bland’s window; I went and took the clock, and directed Bland to stop the prisoner if he ever saw him again. I know nothing more than finding the prisoner in custody.

John Garmsay . This clock is the property of Mr. Grisdale. Elizabeth Grisdale is too ill to attend.

NOT GUILTY .

London jury, before Mr. Common Serjeant.

Gideon Grisdale was born In Matterdale in 1777, the first of the many children of the old blacksmith in Dockray, Matterdale: Wilfred Grisdale, and his second wife Ruth Slee. Wilfred had been born in 1711 to Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray. He had married Ann Brownrigg in 1733 but the couple had no children. But when Ann died in 1775, Wilfred wasted no time in marrying again. He married a young Ruth Slee (48 years his junior) in 1776, at the age of 65. But children soon followed, six in all: Gideon, Charlotte, Bilhah, Wilfred, Joseph and William. The stories of some of Gideon’s siblings are well worth telling and I will probably return to them.

The Old Bailey

As we know Gideon had moved to London and become first a “pawn broker” and then a “jeweller, trader and chapman”. But for reasons we will probably never discover by July 1813 Gideon had been declared bankrupt. From various notices in the London Gazette we know something of what happened. Several meetings were called where his creditors had to prove the debts owed and where Gideon was “examined” as to his estate. This took the better part of a year. Assignees were appointed to manage the bankruptcy and they then proceeded to sell off Gideon’s lease on his premises plus all his “stock in trade, household furniture, goods, chattels, property and effects”. Two dividends were declared for creditors before Gideon was released from bankruptcy by order of “the Right Honourable John Lord Eldon, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain” having “in all things conformed himself according to the directions of the several Acts of Parliament concerning bankrupts”.

All this was going on while Elizabeth was still a small girl. What became of Gideon and his wife after the bankruptcy is a mystery, they disappear from the historical record.

A Ballet at Drury Lane Theatre

Returning to Elizabeth, she was obviously a pretty young dancer at Drury Lane and there she must have caught the eye of John W Gear because on the 19th February 1827 they were married in the Church of Saint Martin in the Fields.

John and Elizabeth Gear never had children and when and why Elizabeth stopped dancing is unknown. But John’s career seems to have flourished and he kept on painting and engraving in the theatre throughout the 1830s and 1840s. The couple seem to first have lived in Wilson Street, Gray’s Inn Road, but in both 1841 and 1851 they were living at 5 Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square a very prestigious and well-to-do address. Things looked bright.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass

Yet for some reason John and Elizabeth left for America in 1852 – moving first to New York and later to Boston. Perhaps the reason was that John’s career was stagnating, or perhaps it was in order for John to live near his father Joseph Gear who had emigrated to the United States many years before and was living and working in Boston; still painting but mostly working as a bassist in the Boston theatre. It’s possible that Joseph was ill and his son wanted to see him before he died – which Joseph did in 1853.

The Houghton Library of Harvard University, where much of John’s work is held, tells us the following:

John William Gear… was an English-born portraitist, miniaturist, watercolor painter, and lithographer, who specialized in theatrical portraits. His greatest work was the publishing of a set of impressions of theater audiences, Portraits of the Public being Heads of Audiences, …. This work was to be published a few at a time in pamphlet form, but only number one ever appeared. He exhibited in London, 1821-1852, and came to Boston ca. 1852 and set-up a business for cleaning and restoring paintings. Although he exhibited his work at the Boston Athenaeum in 1855, he sank into poverty.

We are also told that his father Joseph:

Joseph Gear (1768-1853) was a marine painter, engraver, caricaturist, and a musician. He immigrated to the United States in 1824?, later moved to Boston, and exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum, 1829-1837. He was said to be a “double bassist employed at Drury Lane Theatre, London, and Tremont St. Theatre, Boston, Mass.” John William Gear was his son.

But the sad part for John and for his wife Elizabeth was that:

In 1866 he (John) committed suicide at his father’s grave (Joseph Gear) in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Falmouth Harbour

A sad but human tale. What became of Elizabeth (Grisdale) Gear? Already in poverty it seems she soon returned to England. By 1871, aged 63, she was living in Falmouth, Cornwall, at 7 Briton’s Yard, right on the harbour. She was a “Shell Fish Dealer”, being born in “Saint George in the East, London”. Elizabeth, now listed as Minnie Grisdale, was still there in 1881, carrying on the same trade – as a “Hawker”.

A fish hawker was a trader in fish, much like what we now call a fish-monger. She would have bought fish from the returning fishing fleet and sold it to local people, probably from an outdoor stall. We can only imagine what Elizabeth thought when she looked back on her life. How she had been a beautiful ballet dancer at Drury Lane; how she had married a successful and affluent painter; how they had lived at ease in London; how they had gone to America where it had all gone wrong and her husband had committed suicide on his father’s grave and how now she was just selling fish! Who knows? Did her Falmouth customers hear any of this? And if so did they believe her?

Elizabeth “Minnie” Gear died in 1890 in Falmouth.

One coincidence might be mentioned. One of the famous actors who played on the same stage as Elizabeth, and on many of the same days, was a young James William Wallack. After touring extensively in the United States from 1818, Wallack settled in New York in 1852 and started “Wallack’s Theatre” in 1861. In New York one of the actors who was a regular member of his Theatre Group in the 1860s was a certain Walter Grisdale, about whom I wrote briefly on the site. Walter’s great great grandfather, Joseph Grisdale, was also Elizabeth Grisdale Gear’s great grandfather!

On the 22nd July 1812 near the Spanish city of Salamanca the Duke of Wellington’s British and Portuguese army was fighting a major battle with Napoleon’s French, commanded by Marshal Marmont. It turned out to be significant victory for the British and helped to consolidate Wellington’s growing reputation as a winning General. The price of course was, as usual, thousands of dead and wounded on both sides. One of these was Lieutenant Bethel, the Adjutant of the 40th Regiment of Foot (South Lancashire). Bethell was “severely wounded” and died of his injuries shortly afterwards.

The Duke of Wellington inspects his Foot soldiers before the Battle of Salamanca

The consequences of such personal tragedies always spread further. Bethell left a widow called Martha back home in Malpas Cheshire. Throughout the Napoleonic Wars the House of Commons regularly granted “relief” i.e. payments to the families of soldiers who had been killed in the wars and had been left in difficult even penurious situations. Though it has to be said the families of officers tended to fare better than those of “common” soldiers. In 1815 the House granted £30 to Martha Bethell:

Widow of the late Lieutenant and Adjutant Bethell of the 40th Foot, who died of the wounds he received in the Battle of Salamanca, in consideration of his meritorious services, and the destitute situation in which she is left.

The award was “back-dated” to 22 October 1822, possibly the date when Martha had appealed for help.

And this brings us to the issue of money. In order to pay for the wars against Napoleon the British crown and government needed as always a lot of money. They introduced many new taxes on an already suffering populace. By the turn of the nineteenth century tax collecting in Britain had taken on many of the features we would be familiar with today, including a nationwide network of tax Inspectors and “Collectors of Customs”.

Being a customs collector was, locally, a prestigious, well remunerated, though still much despised, profession. One Collector of Customs active throughout the wars, and thus helping to finance British battles such as Salamanca, was a certain Benjamin Grisdale. He was born and baptized in Matterdale in September 1764, one of the many children of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple.  On 7th September 1791 Benjamin married Jane Maddock in Malpas, Cheshire. It’s quite likely that he had already started his Tax career, a life that took him and his growing family from Malpas (where he had stayed awhile) to Whitchurch in Shropshire, then to Bolton Le Moors in Lancashire and thence to Halifax in Yorkshire. Benjamin and Jane had at least nine children, the last being baptized in Halifax on 16 April 1813 – so she was conceived it seems at around the time Lieutenant Bethell was being fatally wounded at Salamanca.

Whitehaven Harbour in the nineteenth century

Sometime at the end of the Wars or shortly thereafter Benjamin was appointed “Collector of Customs” for Whitehaven, so it was back to Cumberland, before moving again to Carmarthen in Wales. Jane his wife died there. She was buried on 29th September 1827 in Saint Peter’s Church, Carmarthen.

And so for some years the lives of these two people at the heart of this story, Benjamin and Martha Bethell, continued in their very different ways. Benjamin was quite well-to-do whereas, we might surmise, Martha was still probably struggling to avoid “destitution”. We don’t know how or where Benjamin and Martha met but they were married in Carmarthen on 23 Nov 1830; Benjamin being 56 and Martha 55.

It seems that Benjamin with his new wife and some of his children stayed in Carmarthen for a few more years. Maybe Benjamin had already retired from his tax collecting job, we can’t be sure.

In August 1834, Sarah, Benjamin’s youngest child was married in Liverpool, as reported in the Carlisle Journal:

On the 13th inst., at St. Bride’s Church, Liverpool, Mr Thomas WILLIAMS, youngest son of Mr. Wm. WILLIAMS, Ty-Brith, Vale of Clwyd, to Sarah, youngest daughter of Benjamin GRISDALE, Esq., Carmarthen, and late Collector of Excise, Whitehaven.

But sometime after 1834 they moved back to Whitehaven, to the little village of Hensingham. It is here we find the end of their story. Beneath a bush in the Old Churchyard at Hensingham there is a gravestone with the following inscription:

Sacred to the memory of Benjamin Grisdale Collector of Excise who departed this life 28th of July 1848 aged 84 years.

 Also Martha his wife who departed this life on the 5th June 1865 aged 90 years. And formerly widow of Captain and Adjutant Bethel who was killed at the Battle of Salamanca.

Also Ann daughter of the above Benjamin Grisdale died on the 11th May 1865 aged 70 years.

Frances the widow of John Heylin and fourth daughter of the above Benjamin Grisdale who died Novr 29th 1865 aged 65 years..

Thy Will be Done.

Hensingham Church, Whitehaven, Cumberland

It is pleasing to know that both Martha and Benjamin had led such long and full lives, we hope they were happy together.

Such are the little connections that are English history.

Wilfred Grisdale was born in Hollas (‘The Hollows’), Matterdale, Cumberland in 1675. He was one of several children of Thomas Grisdale.  The Matterdale Grisdales were at the time quite poor farmers and craftsmen. So how did Wilfred become a rich man? How did he become the ‘Lord of the Manor of Brigham and Hewthwaite’ in Bridekirk (near Cockermouth) and the owner of two large manor houses and lots of land? And also how was he connected with William Wordsworth?

I don’t yet know all the answers but here is the story as I know it so far. Also see: https://grisdalefamily.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/william-wordsworth-and-grisdale-money/

In 1702 at the age of 27 Wilfred married Mary Stanger in Crosthwaite, Cumberland. By the next year he and Mary were in London where their first child, also called Wilfred, was baptised at St Leonards Church in Shoreditch on the 5th August 1703. The family lived in Holyn Street. A second child, John, followed in 1704, baptised at the same church on the 7th August. We know that Wilfred was a ‘Brewer’ but this information only comes later.

Wood Hall, Bridekirk, Cockermouth

But by 1707/1708 he obviously had made a considerable amount of money because in that year he was able to buy ‘Wood Hall’ (Woodhall), a large manor house (see picture) near Bridekirk, from the Tolson family , (see ; http://www.wedmore.org.uk/tolson/index.html). Wilfred’s next two children were twins, Mary and Wilfred (the first Wilfred had probably died). They were born and baptized in Bridekirk on 28th December 1708. Wilfred was shown as being of ‘Woodhall’. Wilfred’s brother William (who had a son also called William) died in Bridekirk in August 1708 and was said to be of ‘Woodhall’.

The question is how did Wilfred, even if he had started his brewing career as soon as he moved to London, get enough money in only 4-5 years to buy such a splendid house? One supposition is that he married into money? Was Mary Stanger rich? Was there a dowry? I don’t know yet, but it is interesting to note that some years later when Matterdale School was founded in 1722 by another Grisdale, the Rev. Robert Grisdale (more on him another time), one of the richest local landowners was also called Mary Stanger.

Wilfred and his family were soon back in London and we know for sure he was a brewer by this time. His last three children Jane (born 1713), Elizabeth and William (twins born in 1716) were all baptized in St Mary’s, Whitechapel. The family were living in Hooper’s Square, Whitechapel and the Brewery was in Goodman’s Field.

Hewthwaite Hall

He obviously continued to prosper because in 1827 Wilfred took another step up. He bought and became the Lord of the Manor of Brigham and Hewthwaite, near Bridekirk. And with this he became the owner of Hewthwaite Hall (see picture). The seller was the indebted Jacobite Lord Wharton (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baron_Wharton)

But Wilfred’s good fortune was not to last. It seems that only one of his children survived. This was Mary Grisdale born in 1708 in Bridekirk. In 1729 she married Joshua Lucock in London. Joshua was the scion of a well-established Cumberland gentry family that was later to suffer much insanity (see: http://www.derwentfells.com/pdfs/journal/Newsletter36.pdf). They had two children: Grisdale Lucock born in Hoopers’ Square, Whitechapel, in 1731 and Mary, born in Camberwell in 1735. Wilfred himself had by this time already died – in 1732 in Hoppers’ Square. Wilfred’s daughter Mary Grisdale (Lucock) died in 1737 in Hoopers’ Square, Whitechapel. His granddaughter Mary Lucock died in Camberwell only one year later in 1738, aged just three.

Joshua Lucock went on to marry twice more (see link above).

So what became of Wilfred’s great wealth? It’s a long and complicated story and without going to the Carlisle Records office it will be difficult to find the full tale. But essentially after the death of his daughter and granddaughter his estate was inherited by a ‘nephew’ – William Singleton a Surgeon in London. When he died in 1767 it passed to his daughter Mary Singleton. She died a spinster in about 1775. Then Wilfred’s will came back with force and his estate was divided between several people, the manor of Brigham, including Hewthwaite Hall, was allotted to the Lucock family, who sold it in 1783 to Sir Gilfred Lawson.

I am still trying to sort out the whole sequence. At the end I reproduce some documents verbatim that will help.

There is an interesting addition to the story. In 1745 Joshua Lucock built a large house in Bridekirk which is now called ‘Wordsworth House’ – because the poet was born there:

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described in his book ‘The Buildings of England – Cumberland and Westmorland’ Wordsworth House as ‘quite a swagger house for such a town’. It was built in 1745 for the then High Sheriff of Cumberland, Joshua Lucock. In 1761 Sir James Lowther, son of Sir John Lowther who built Whitehaven and its port, bought the property.

John Wordsworth, the poet’s father, moved to Cockermouth as agent to Sir James in 1764, and in 1766 married Anne Cookson and moved rent free into what is now known as Wordsworth House. Here four sons and a daughter were born – Richard (19 August 1768), William (7 April 1770), Dorothy (25 December 1771), John (4 December 1771) and Christopher (9 June 1774). Their mother died on 8 March 1778 when William was eight, and he spent most of his time with relatives in Penrith. His father died in Wordsworth House five years later on 30 December 1783. In 1784 all the children finally left the house to be cared for by relations.

Wordsworth House

An interesting tale, but still with much more to discover. Such as:

Who was Mary Stanger of Crosthwaite? Did she bring money to Wilfred?

What is the relation with the noble family Lawson, Baronets? There seem many.

What sort of Brewery did Wilfred have in Goodman’s Field?

What was the precise connection between Wilfred and Dr William Singleton?

 

Also see: https://grisdalefamily.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/william-wordsworth-and-grisdale-money/

These documents are held at Cumbria Record Office, Carlisle Headquarters :

 D LAW/1/198  t. James I, then 1707 – 1841

Contents:
Deeds to the customary messuage and tenement called Borranskell’s Tenement (1707), later called Little Hewthwaite, and to the farm house called Lowthwaite built nearby c. 1778, which became part of the Singleton estate, and which Sir Gilfrid Lawson bought as two properties in May and Dec. 1783; includes enfranchisement of the same in 1841; hitherto held of the Manor of Hewthwaite, rent 17s. 4d.; bundle also includes uncompleted damaged quitclaim following sale of the Manor of Bassenthwaite to Sir Wilfrid Lawson by Richard Fletcher and Barbara his wife, John Irton and Mary his wife, and John Irton his son (30 houses, 20 cottages, 2 dovecotes, lands), t. James I
Including:
Mortgage for £100 by Richard Swinburne of Hewthwaite in the parish of Cockermouth Esq. and Eleanor his wife, to Dame Elizabeth Lawson of Isel, widow and guardian of Sir Wilfrid Lawson, Bt., infant, on his behalf – Borranskell’s Tenement, rent 17s. 4d., at Hewthwaite; interest, 6%; and two further deeds re same of same date; and admittance of Sir Wilfrid (Thomas, Lord Wharton, lord of the manor) 1714/15, 1707, 1714/5
Dimissions to William Singleton, surgeon (1750), and Mary his only child and heir, spinster (1768) – ½ acre parcel in the Manor of Derwentfells at Setmurthy, rent 7d. (Duke of Somerset, lord), 1750, 1768
3. Lease and release of Part 6 of the late Miss Singleton’s Cumberland estate, and
4. Lease and release and covenant to levy fine on the 11th Part of same, 25 and 26 June 1776
Parties:
Joshua Lucock of Cockermouth, Esq., and numerous others mostly of his family
Dr William Pitcairn of Warwick Court, Warwick Lane, London, doctor in physic, sole Executor of the late Miss Mary Singleton, late of the Rolls Buildings, Fetter Lane, London, who was the only child of the late William Singleton late of Aldersgate Street, London, surgeon, cousin and heir of Mary Lucock (deceased) the granddaughter of Joshua Lucock deceased by the daughter of Wilfrid Grisdale of Goodman’s fields, Middx., brewer, deceased.
Recites names of the Commissioners for the Partition, which person got what part, and what each part comprised; refers to “the Plan” [now in Item 199]; the parts (“Lots”) 6 and 22 relate to various named closes at Hewthwaite; states sums payable in lieu of tithe
Note William Singleton, surgeon, was William Grisdale’s nephew. Wilfrid Grisdale was Lord of the Manors of Brigham and Hewthwaite, with the capital messuage called Hewthwaite Hall.
Fine re same – 40 acres land, 5 acres meadow, 25 acres pasture, common of pasture and turbary, in the parishes of Cockermouth and Bridekirk, 1777
Supplemental abstract of title (“No. 2”) of Dr Pitcairn, reciting from 1730-1777; c. 1778
Mortgage, draft “for Mr Baynes’ approval” [their London solicitor], and contemporary copy of same (John Lucock [party to Items 3 and 4 above], of Cockermouth Esq., to Daniel Moor of Whitehaven, mariner), – for £800 – the capital mansion of Hewthwaite Hall, and that other, farm, house “lately Erected” next door by the said John Lucock, and lands near it “heretofore part” of Hesket Hall demesne (names each field and which old field they were “taken from”), 1778
Admittance – Sir Richard Cope, Bt., nephew and heir of Sir John Mordaunt Cope, Bt., deceased, to the house and land called Little Hewthwaite, rent 17s. 4d., in the Manor of Hewthwaite (Joseph Fisher, lord), 1782
Agreement for sale, and lease and release of Lewthwaite (John Lucock gent. and Daniel Moor to Sir Gilfrid) for £1036, being £848 to Daniel Moor and £188 to John Lucock, May 1783
Power of attorney by John Lucock re same a May 1783
Lease and release of named closes at Hewthwaite (Dr Pitcairn to Sir Gilfrid) for £1650, Dec. 1783
Customary conveyance, and surrender-and-admittance (Sir Gilfrid to William Browne of Tallentire Hall, Esq. [his trustee]) – Little Hewthwaite, 1785
Enfranchisement (John Sanderson Fisher, infant, of Woodhall p. Bridekirk, Esq., lord on the death of Judith Bolton, widow, last admitting Lady, to William Browne as Sir Wilfrid’s Trustee) for £72 – 7 closes (total 38a. 0r. 36p.) and 5 parcels of woodland adjoining (total 15a. 1r. 12p.) at Little Hewthwaite in Setmurthy tp., total rent 17s. 4d.; nothing reserved; the closes are not named, 1841

This is from Magna Britannia: volume 4: Cumberland, Daniel and Samuel Lysons, 1816:

BRIGHAM, in the ward of Allerdale below Derwent, is an extensive parish, containing ten townships, besides those of the parochial chapelry of Lorton, viz. Brigham, Blindbothel, Buttermere, Cockermouth, Eaglesfield, Embleton, Grey-Southern, Mosser, Setmurthy, and Whinfell. The whole parish, exclusively of Lorton, contained in 1811, 1008 houses, and 4918 inhabitants.

The manors of Brigham, Grey-Southern, and Eaglesfield, were given by William de Meschines to Waldeof, son of Gospatric: the latter gave Brigham to Dolphin, son of Alward, in marriage with his sister; after a few descents it was divided into moieties between the coheirs of Brigham; one moiety after remaining for some time in the family of Twinham, and afterwards in that of Hercla, was forfeited by the attainder of Andrew de Hercla, Earl of Carlisle, and given to a chantry in the church of Brigham; this moiety, after the dissolution, was granted to the Fletchers of Moresby, and was sold to the tenants. The other moiety was successively in the families of Huthwaite and Swinburn; it was sold by the latter in 1699, to the Honourable Goodwin Wharton; in 1727 the trustees of the Duke of Wharton sold it to Mr. Wilfred Grisdale; after the death of his daughter, Mrs. Lucock, and her only daughter, it passed under his will to Mr. William Singleton, who died in 1767; on his death this and other estates became vested jointly in several persons under Mr. Grisdale’s will, and having been divided by virtue of a commission of partition, issued out of the court of chancery, this moiety of the manor of Brigham was allotted to Joshua Lucock, Esq. and is now the property of his grandson Raisbeck Lucock Bragg, Esq. The Earl of Egremont is Lord Paramount.

Did a Cumbrian soldier “save England and Europe” from Napoleon?

In the mid-nineteenth century in the small Cumbrian market town of Penrith there was a public house called the ‘General Lefebvre’. Locals jokingly referred to it as the ‘General Grisdale’, after its publican, an old ex-Sergeant Major called Levi Grisdale. It seems that Levi was quite a character, and we might well imagine how on cold Cumbrian winter nights he would regale his quests with tales of his exploits as a Hussar during the Napoleonic Wars. How he had captured the French General Lefebvre in Spain, as the British army were retreating towards Corunna, or even telling of how it was he, at the Battle of Waterloo, who had led the Prussians onto the field; a decisive event that had turned the course of the battle and, it is usually argued, led to Napoleon’s final defeat.

Scouts of the 10th Hussars During the Peninsular War – W B Wollen 1905

Numerous individual stories survive from these wars, written by participants from all sides: French, British, German and Spanish. Yet a great number of these come from the ‘officer classes’. Levi was not an officer and, as far as is known, he never wrote his own story. Be that as it may, using a variety of sources (not just from the British side) plus some detailed research in the archives, undertaken by myself and others, it is possible to reconstruct something his life. Levi spent 22 years in the army, fought in 32 engagements, including at the Battle of Waterloo, rose to be a Sergeant Major and was highly decorated. There is even an anonymous essay in the Hussars’ Regimental museum entitled: How Trooper Grisdale, 10th Hussars, Saved England and Europe! This suggested, possibly with a degree of hyperbole, that it was Levi who caused Napoleon to leave the Spanish Peninsular in disgust! But the events of the Peninsular War were decisive. Many years later Napoleon wrote:

That unfortunate war destroyed me … all my disasters are bound up in that knot.

I greatly enjoyed discovering a little about Levi. What follows is my version of this Cumbrian’s life and deeds. I hope you will enjoy it too!

Levi Grisdale was born in 1783, near Penrith in Cumberland’s Lake District. He came from a long line of small yeomen farmers. His father, Solomon, and his grandfather, Jonathon, had both been farmers. They were born in the nearby small hill village of Matterdale; where the Grisdale family had lived for hundreds of years. Although obviously a country boy, Levi somehow found his way to London, where on 26th March 1803, aged just 20, he enlisted for “unlimited service” as a private or ‘trooper’ in the 10th Light Dragoons, later to become ‘Hussars’ – an elite British cavalry regiment. How and why he enlisted in the army we do not know. His older brother Thomas was probably already a soldier based at the cavalry barracks on the outskirts of Canterbury, and maybe this contributed to Levi’s decision. We know nothing of Levi’s first years in the army; but in October 1808 he, with the 10th Hussars, embarked at Portsmouth for Spain.

A Charge of the 10th Hussars under Lord Paget

The regiment, having passed through Corunna, joined up with the now retreating British army, under its Commander-in-Chief, Sir John Moore, at Zamora on December 9, 1808. Under Sir John Slade, they became part of the army’s defensive rear-guard. They arrived at Sahagun in Spain on the 21st December – just in time to take part in the tail end of a successful action known as the Battle of Sahagun. Before the battle, Levi had been made a ‘coverer’ – a sort of bodyguard or ‘minder’ – for the fourteen year old Earl George Augustus Frederick Fitz-Clarence. It wasn’t unusual for wealthy and well-connected young men to become British officers at such a tender age, and Fitz-Clarence was certainly well-connected. He was the bastard son of the future King William IV and nephew of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV – who was the regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief.

During the battle Levi was wounded in the left ankle by a musket ball. It can’t have been too serious a wound because only a few days later he was to take part in another engagement. His exploits there were, in large part, responsible for us being able to reconstruct Levi’s story today. I will take some pains to explain what happened. The account I will present is based on numerous sources and on several eyewitness accounts; not just British, but also German, French and Spanish. There are some inconsistencies but when taken together they provide a coherent enough picture.

The British Retreat to Corunna 1808-1809

Despite the victory at Sahagun, the British army had continued its retreat towards Astorga and Corunna. But Napoleon had heard that the British were intent on a crossing of the River Esla, two miles from the Spanish town of Benavente. He sent his elite cavalry, the Chasseurs à cheval, commanded by one of his favourites, General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes, to cut them off and prevent the crossing. But due to dreadful weather they had been slowed down and they arrived just too late. Sir John Moore had already crossed the river on the 24th and departed with the bulk of the British army. He had, however, left a strong cavalry rearguard in the town of Benavente, and a small detachment was watching the river fords. Early on the morning of 29th December, British engineers destroyed the bridge at Castrogonzalo. When Lefebvre and his force of about 500 – 600 cavalry arrived, we are told that this was at nine in the morning, there seemed no way to cross, because the river “was swollen with rain.”

Lefebvre could see that “outlying pickets of the British cavalry were stationed along the Western bank of the River Esla.” He thought, wrongly as it turned out, that the few scouts to be seen were all that remained of the British at Benavente. Eventually he managed to find one place to ford the river and, according to one report, first sent across “a peasant mounted on a mare” to see find out what response there would be. Seeing there was none, Lefebvre crossed the river “with three strong squadrons of his Chasseurs and a small detachment of Mamelukes” – though not without great difficulty.

One account, drawing on a number of sources, nicely sums up what ensued:

The French forced the outlying pickets of the British cavalry back onto the inlaying picket commanded by Loftus Otway (18th Hussars). Otway charged, despite heavy odds, but was driven back for 2 miles towards the town of Benavente. In an area where their flanks were covered by walls, the British, now reinforced by a troop or squadron of the 3rd Hussars King’s German Legion, and commanded by Brigadier-General Stewart, counter-attacked and a confused mêlée ensued. The French, though temporarily driven back, had superior numbers and forced the British hussars to retreat once more, almost back to Benavente. Stewart knew he was drawing the French towards Paget and substantial numbers of British reserves. The French had gained the upper hand in the fight and were preparing to deliver a final charge when Lord Paget made a decisive intervention. He led the 10th Hussars with squadrons of the 18th in support, around the southern outskirts of Benavente. Paget managed to conceal his squadrons from French view until he could fall on their left flank. The British swords, often dulled by their iron scabbards, were very sharp on this occasion. An eyewitness stated that he saw the arms of French troopers cut off cleanly “like Berlin sausages.” Other French soldiers were killed by blows to the head, blows which divided the head down to the chin.

The French fought their way back to the River Esla and started to cross to its eastern bank – swimming with their horses. But many were caught by the pursuing British cavalry, and either killed or made prisoner. General Lefebvre, however, did not escape. His horse had been wounded and when it entered the river it refused to cross. He and some of his men were surrounded by the British cavalry under Lord Paget, which consisted of the 18th Hussars and half of the 3rd Hussars, King’s German Legion. During this encounter Lefebvre was wounded and taken prisoner, along with about seventy of his Chasseurs.

General Lefebvre is Captured at Benaventa. Painting by Dennis Dighton. Royal Collection, Windsor

So who was it that captured General Lefebvre? Some British sources claim simply that it was Private Grisdale. In Levi’s own regimental book we read that Lefebvre was pursued by the “Hussars” and “refusing to stop when overtaken, was cut across the head and made prisoner by Private Levi Grisdall (sic).” Other witnesses suggest that it was in fact a German 3rd Hussar, called Private Johann Bergmann, who captured the General, and that it was he who subsequently handed over his captive to Grisdale.

Any continuing mystery, however, seems to be cleared away by later witness statements made by Private Bergmann himself. His statement is corroborated by several other German Hussars who had taken part in the action, and by letters written by some German officers who were also present. Bergmann’s extensive testimony, taken at Osterholz in 1830 , is recorded in the third person. It states that there were:

three charges that day… at the third charge, or in reality the pursuit, he came upon the officer whom he made prisoner. He was one of the first in the pursuit, and as he came up with this officer, who rode close in the rear of the enemy, the officer made a thrust at him with a long straight sword. After, however, he had parried the thrust, the officer called out ‘pardon.’ He did not trouble himself further about the man, but continued the pursuit; an English Hussar, however, who had come up to the officer at the same time with him, led the officer back.

Bergmann went on to say that he hadn’t known that the officer was Lefebvre until after the action, when he was told he should “have held fast the man.” He added that he was young and “did not trouble” himself about the matter.  All he remembered was that the officer “wore a dark green frock, a hat with a feather, and a long straight sword.”

All the other German witnesses and letters confirm Bergmann’s story, but we also learn that the General had fired a pistol at Bergmann “which failing in its aim, he offered him his sword and made known his wish to be taken to General Stewart.” But Bergmann “didn’t know General Stewart personally, and while he was enquiring where the general was to be found, a Hussar of the tenth English joined him, and led away the prisoner.”

So this it seems is the truth of the matter: Lefebvre was surrounded by a German troop and captured by Private Johann Bergmann. Levi Grisdale, with the 10th Hussars, might have arrived at the scene at the same time as Bergmann or very slightly after, opinions differ. Lefebvre asked to be taken to General Stewart and so Bergmann, “not knowing General Stewart personally”, handed him over to Private Grisdale who “led the prisoner away.”

Lefebvre was delivered to the British Commander-in-Chief, Sir John Moore. Moore, who, we are told, treated the General, who had suffered a superficial head wound, “kindly” and “entertained him at his table.” He also gave him his own sword to replace the one taken when he surrendered. “Speaking to him in French”, General Moore, “provided some of his own clothes; for Lefebvre was drenched and bleeding.” He then “sent a message to the French, requesting Lefebvre’s baggage, which was promptly sent.”

Napoleon, who had viewed the action from a height overlooking the river, didn’t seem too put out by the losses of what he called his “Cherished Children.” But he was very upset when he heard of Lefebvre’s capture. He wrote to Josephine (my translation):

Lefebvre has been taken. He made a skirmish for me with 300 Chasseurs; these show-offs crossed the river by swimming, and threw themselves into the middle of the English cavalry. They killed many of them; but, returning, Lefebvre’s horse was wounded: he was drowning; the current led him to the bank where the English were; he has been taken. Console his wife.

In the aftermath of the battle, a Spanish report from the town of Benavente itself, tells us that on:

The night of the 29th they (the British) used the striking pines growing on the high ground behind the hospitals as lights, at every step coming under the fire of French artillery from the other side of the river, answered feebly by the English, whose force disappeared totally by the morning, to be replaced by a dreadful silence and solitude….

The British cavalry had slipped away and, with the rest of the army, continued its horrendous winter retreat to Corunna. Levi Grisdale and the 10th Hussars were with them.

General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes

General Lefebvre himself was later sent as a prisoner to England, and housed at Cheltenham where he lived for three years. As was the custom, he gave his word or “parole” as a French officer and gentleman that he would not try to escape. He was even allowed to be joined by his wife Stephanie. It seems that the couple: “were in demand socially and attended social events around the district.” Other reports tell us that General Lefebvre was in possession of a “fine signet ring of considerable value which had been given him years earlier by his Emperor Napoleon. Lefebvre used this ring as a bribe to get escape and was thus able to escape back to France, where he rejoined his Division.” This was, says one commentator, “an unpardonable sin according to English public opinion.” So much for a gentleman’s word!  The Emperor reinstated him as commander of the Chasseurs and he would go on to fight in all Napoleon’s subsequent campaigns, right up to Waterloo – where he would share the field once again with Levi Grisdale.

I have kept us a little too long in Spain. This is, after all, not the story of the retreat to Corunna, much less a history of the first Spanish chapter of the Peninsular War. After the so-called March of Death and the Battle of Corunna, Levi Grisdale was evacuated back to England by the Royal Navy – with what was left of the 10th Hussars. Here his fame started to spread. The Hampshire Telegraph of 18th February 1809 announced that Grisdale was back in Brighton with his regiment and described him as: “tall, well-made, well looking, ruddy and expressive.” He was promoted to Corporal and awarded a special silver medal by the regiment, which was inscribed:

Corporal Grisdale greatly distinguished himself on the 1st day of January 1809 (sic). This is adjudged to him by officers of the regiment.

The years passed. The regiment moved from Brighton to Romford in Essex, but was once again back in Brighton in 1812. Of this time we know little; only a few events in Levi’s life. Soon after his arrival back in England, he somehow arranged to get away to Bath, where on 29 March 1809, he married Ann Robinson in St James’ Church. Their only son, also called Levi, was born and baptized at Arundel on 12 March 1811 – sadly he was to die young. On 17 February 1813, he “was found guilty of being drunk and absent from barracks.” But, it seems, he was neither reduced to the ranks nor flogged. Other evidence suggests that the whole regiment was “undisciplined and tended to drunkenness.” Whether the leniency of his treatment was due to his record at Benavente we will probably never know.

But by February 1813, Levi, by this time a Sergeant, was back in the Iberian Peninsula, serving in a coalition army under Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, who was later to become the Duke of Wellington. With the 10th Hussars, he fought his way through Portugal, Spain and France and, so  his regiment’s records tell us, was actively engaged at the Battles of Morales, Vitoria, Orthes and, finally, at the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814. Here the British and their allies were badly mauled. But news soon reached the French Marshall Soult that Napoleon had abdicated and Soult agreed to an armistice.

It is said that Levi Grisdale led Bluecher's Prussians onto the field at Waterloo

It is said that Levi Grisdale led Bluecher’s Prussians onto the field at Waterloo

And that should really have been that as far as Levi Grisdale’s military campaigning days was concerned. Yet one more chapter lay ahead. A chapter that would no doubt later provide Levi with another great story to tell in his Penrith public house. Napoleon, we might recall, was to escape from his exile on the Island of Elba in February 1815. He retook the leadership of France, regathered his army, and was only definitively defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on 18th June 1815. It has often been said that the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo “hung in the balance” until the arrival of the Prussian army under Prince von Blücher. One writer puts it thus:

Blücher’s army intervened with decisive and crushing effect, his vanguard drawing off Napoleon’s badly needed reserves, and his main body being instrumental in crushing French resistance. This victory led the way to a decisive victory through the relentless pursuit of the French by the Prussians.

And here it is that we last hear of Levi’s active military exploits. According to his obituary, published in the Cumberland and Westmoreland Advertiser on 20 November 1855, Levi had been posted on the road where the Prussians were expected to arrive, and he led them onto the field of battle! We are also told that during the battle “his horse was shot from under him and he was wounded in the right calf by a splinter from a shell.” Finally, according to a letter written by Captain Thomas Taylor of the 10th Hussars, written to General Sir Vivian Hussey in 1829, Levi, who was a by now a Sergeant in No1 troop under Captain John Gurwood, and “who was one of the captors of Lefebvre … conducted the vedettes in withdrawing from French cavalry during the battle.

Of course, Levi Grisdale certainly did not “save England and Europe” from Napoleon. But, along with thousands of other common soldiers, he played his part and, unlike countless others on all sides, he survived to tell his tales in his pub.

What became of Levi? After he returned to England, he was promoted to Sergeant Major and remained another nine years with the 10th Hussars. When he left the army in 1825, aged only 42 but with twenty-two years of active service and thirty-two engagements behind him, his discharge papers said that he was suffering from chronic rheumatism and was “worn out by service.” Hardly surprising we might think. The army gave him a pension of 1s 10d a day. His papers also state that his intended place of residence was Bristol. He was as good as his word as and he was to become the landlord of the Stag and Star public house in Barr Street, Bristol.

Christ Church, Penrith – where Levi Grisdale is buried

Yet by 1832 Levi and his family had moved back to his native Penrith. His wife Ann died there in July of that year. It seems that Levi was not one to mourn for too long. Within about two weeks he had married again. This time a woman called Mary Western – with whom he had four children. He continued his life as a publican and, as I have mentioned, christened his pub the General Lefebvre; he even hung a large picture of the General over the entrance. During his last years, Levi Grisdale gave up his pub and worked as a gardener. He died of ‘dropsy’ on 17 November 1855 in Penrith, aged 72, his occupation being given as “Chelsea pensioner.” He was buried in the graveyard of Christ Church in Penrith.

Despite what we know about Levi’s life, we will never know what was most important to him – his family, his comrades? Nor will we know what he thought of the ruling ‘officer class’? What he thought of the social and political system that had led him to fight so many battles against adversaries he knew little about? Nor whose side he was really on? We will never know these things, though we can imagine!

As General Macarthur once said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” ‘General’ Levi Grisdale certainly died but, thankfully, his memory has not yet faded away.

Sources

Mary Grisdale. Levi Grisdale. Unpublished research 2006; David Fallowfield. Levi Grisdale 1783-1855, Unpublished article. Penrith; Philip J. Haythornthwaite. Corunna 1809: Sir John Moore’s Fighting Retreat. London: Osprey Publishing 2001; Lettres de Napoléon à Joséphine, Tome Second, Paris 1833, Firman Didot Freres; Christopher Hibbert. Corunna, Batsford 1961; Michael Clover. The Peninsular War 1807-1814. Penguin Books 2003; North Ludlow Beamish. History of the King’s German Legion, Harvard 1832; Christopher Summerville. The March of Death: Sir John Moore’s Retreat to Corunna. Greenhill books 2006; Brime, D. Fernando Fernandez. Historical Notes of the Town of Benavente and its Environs.  Valladolid 1881; Wikipedia.  Battle of Benavente. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Benavente.; The Museum of the King’s Royal Hussars. http://www.horsepowermuseum.co.uk/index.html .