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.

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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.