Posts Tagged ‘Matterdale’

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

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

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

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

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church

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

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

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

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

matt winter

Matterdale

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

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

Greystoke Church

Greystoke Church

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

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

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

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

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

matt snow 2

Snow in Matterdale

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

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

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

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

Teste Thomas Grisedal. Matt: Soulby, John Hodgson.

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

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

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

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

Rose Castle, the residence of the Bishops of Carlisle

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

 

 

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

The church in Horndon on the Hill, Essex

The church in Horndon on the Hill, Essex

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Grisdale's Will, 1605

John Grisdale’s Will, 1605

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloody Queen Mary

Bloody Queen Mary

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

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

Dowthwaitehead Farm

Dowthwaitehead Farm

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

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

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

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church

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

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

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

Greystoke Church

Greystoke Church

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

patterdale-birds-eye

Patterdale where Simeon was born

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

All Saints Church in Houghton

All Saints Church in Houghton

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

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

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

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

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

In Fleet Prison

In Fleet Prison

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lincoln's Inn Fields in the 1800s

Lincoln’s Inn Fields in the 1800s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers, 1837

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

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

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

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

Frith's painting of Duval

Frith’s painting of Duval

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

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

A memorial at the church reads:

Here lies DuVall: Reder, if male thou art,

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

Much havoc has he made of both; for all

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

The second Conqueror of the Norman race,

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

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

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

An Ostler

An Ostler

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dick Turpin jumping Hornsey Gate

Dick Turpin jumping Hornsey Gate

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

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

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

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

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

Holloway/Hornsey Area in 1819

Holloway/Hornsey Area in 1819

 

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

Norman Cragg Farm, Hutton Roof, Cumberland

Norman Crag Farm, Hutton Roof, Cumberland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s an ongoing research.

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

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

Hartsop Hall, Patterdale

Hartsop Hall, Patterdale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Penrith

Old Penrith

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

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

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

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

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

Carlisle English Gate and Old Gaol

Carlisle English Gate and Old Gaol

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

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

Bound For Van Diemen's Land

Bound For Van Diemen’s Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Charge of the 10th Hussars under Lord Paget

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

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

The British Retreat to Corunna 1808-1809

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ Church, Penrith – where Levi Grisdale is buried

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matterdale Old School

Matterdale Old School

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

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

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

Some of the 5th Battlion the Border Regiment in France

Some of the 5th Battlion the Border Regiment in France

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cockermouth gravestone of the last Matterdale Grisdales

Cockermouth gravestone of the last Matterdale Grisdales