Posts Tagged ‘Seventeenth century’

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

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

Matterdale Church, Cumberland

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

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

Background to the trials

Matterdale

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

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

The Carlisle trial and the appeal

Hutton John – Andrew Huddleston’s Manor

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

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

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

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

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

The House of Lords

London in 1690

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

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

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

He based his case on his contention that:

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

And that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westermell Fell – Now Great Mell Fell

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

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

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

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

The verdict

The House of Lords in the seventeenth century

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

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

The day before the hearing the Lords ordered that:

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

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

I give the Lords’ verdict in full:

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

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

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

Who were the protagonists and their witnesses?

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

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

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

Brownrigg In Matterdale – Where William Mounsey lived

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

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

What was it all about?

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

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

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

Sheepfold on Hutton Moor

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

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

George Orwell once put it thus:

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

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

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

Deprived of the Commons many Matterdale people ended up here

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

The unfortunate restoration of King Charles in 1660

The unfortunate restoration of King Charles in 1660

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

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

Thomas Macaulay

Thomas Macaulay

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

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

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

Conybeare adds wryly:

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

Good on them!

Matterdale

Matterdale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church

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

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

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

Greystoke Rectory

Greystoke Rectory

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

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

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

Rose Castle, the residence of the Bishops of Carlisle

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

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

Actually neither Leonard Rumney nor William Todhunter was appointed.

Greystoke Church

Greystoke Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James  the first, another disastrous king

James the first, another disastrous king

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

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

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

A seventeenth century Glebe Terrier

A seventeenth century Glebe Terrier

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

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

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

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

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

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

A latter Terrier in 1776 gives slightly more details:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Wright Curate. Solomon Grisedale Chapelwarden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The unfortunate restoration of King Charles in 1660

The unfortunate restoration of King Charles in 1660

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

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

Thomas Macaulay

Thomas Macaulay

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

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

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

Conybeare adds wryly:

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

Good on them!

Matterdale

Matterdale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church

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

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

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

Greystoke Rectory

Greystoke Rectory

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actually neither Leonard Rumney nor William Todhunter was appointed.

Greystoke Church

Greystoke Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James  the first, another disastrous king

James the first, another disastrous king

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

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

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

A seventeenth century Glebe Terrier

A seventeenth century Glebe Terrier

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

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

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

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

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

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

A latter Terrier in 1776 gives slightly more details:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Wright Curate. Solomon Grisedale Chapelwarden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matterdale Church, Cumberland

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

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

Background to the trials

Matterdale

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

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

The Carlisle trial and the appeal

Hutton John – Andrew Huddleston’s Manor

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

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

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

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

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

The House of Lords

London in 1690

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

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

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

He based his case on his contention that:

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

And that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westermell Fell – Now Great Mell Fell

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

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

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

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

The verdict

The House of Lords in the seventeenth century

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

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

The day before the hearing the Lords ordered that:

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

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

I give the Lords’ verdict in full:

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

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

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

Who were the protagonists and their witnesses?

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

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

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

Brownrigg In Matterdale – Where William Mounsey lived

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

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

What was it all about?

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

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

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

Sheepfold on Hutton Moor

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

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

George Orwell once put it thus:

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

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

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

Deprived of the Commons many Matterdale people ended up here

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

Matterdale Church, Cumberland

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

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

Background to the trials

Matterdale

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

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

The Carlisle trial and the appeal

Hutton John – Andrew Huddleston’s Manor

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

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

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

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

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

The House of Lords

London in 1690

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

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

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

He based his case on his contention that:

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

And that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westermell Fell – Now Great Mell Fell

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

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

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

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

The verdict

The House of Lords in the seventeenth century

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

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

The day before the hearing the Lords ordered that:

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

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

I give the Lords’ verdict in full:

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

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

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

Who were the protagonists and their witnesses?

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

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

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

Brownrigg In Matterdale – Where William Mounsey lived

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

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

What was it all about?

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

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

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

Sheepfold on Hutton Moor

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

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

George Orwell once put it thus:

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

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

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

Deprived of the Commons many Matterdale people ended up here

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

Sources

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

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