Posts Tagged ‘Whitehaven’

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

Founded on Iron

Founded on Iron

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

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

Liverpool Docks

Liverpool Docks

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

Thames Ironworks Foundry

Thames Ironworks Foundry

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

Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding

Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding

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

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

HMS Sans Pareil - Ready for Launch

HMS Sans Pareil – Ready for Launch

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

Arnold Hills

Arnold Hills

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

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

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

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

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

Thames Ironworks Team 1895

Thames Ironworks Team 1895

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

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

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

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

Joseph Grisdale - Chairman

Joseph Grisdale – Chairman

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

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

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

Sarisbury, Hampshire

Sarisbury, Hampshire

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

Along the Cumberland coast there are several towns that were important ports and mining centres from the seventeenth century onwards: Whitehaven, Maryport, Workington and Harrington. They are all within a few miles of each other. These towns and harbours were literally owned and developed by two powerful families. In the case of Whitehaven, the Lowthers, later Earls of Lonsdale. In the case of Workington and Harrington, the Curwens. Both families developed deep coal mines that ran out for miles under the sea. The ports were initially developed to transport their coal to Ireland but later developed and traded throughout the world. Our concern here is with a Grisdale family living in Harrington in the first half of the 1700s. 

Workington Hall - Seat of the Curwens

Workington Hall – Seat of the Curwens

To understand what this family might have been doing in Harrington at this time and what might have brought them there, we need to understand slightly more about the town, actually the village, itself.  ‘The manor was held of the fee of Workington by the Harrington (or ‘Haverington’) family in the 13th and 14th centuries.  It descended by marriage to Henry Grey, duke of Suffolk, executed 1554.  In 1556/7 the Crown granted Harrington to Henry Curwen of Workington; thereafter it descended with Workington.’ Coal mining in West Cumbria dates back to the 13th Century when the monks from St Bees Abbey supervised the opening of coal mines at Arrowthwaite. By 1688 there was at least one coal mine in Harrington Park ‘valued at £100 per year’ and also a salt pan at Lowca. It wasn’t until 1760 that Henry Curwen built a quay at Harrington on the south side of the River Wyre. Coal and limestone were soon being exported to Ireland from Harrington, and the increase in this trade led to the development of a local shipbuilding industry.

 At that time (1760) there were no houses in the area and no ships were recorded as belonging to Harrington. But by 1794 there were around 60 ships. The main cargoes were coal being shipped to Ireland from Curwen’s mines nearby, as well as lime from Distington to Scotland.

Harrington Harbour

Harrington Harbour

The Grisdales of Harrington were established there before the quay was built and thus, in all likelihood, they worked either in the early Curwen coal mines or possibly in the salt pan.

Henry ‘Grisedell’ was born in the nearby inland town of Wigton in 1668, the son of Alexander Grisedell and Katherine Yoward. Over the years the family name was recorded using all conceivable variants: Grisdale, Grisdell, Grisedell, Grizdale, Griesdale and Grizedale. I’ll use the more usual Grisdale. It appears that Henry married Ann Harrison in Skelton, Cumberland in 1688, but then, sometime before 1710, Henry moved to Harrington. His daughter Jane was baptized there in that year, followed by John in 1712,  Henry in 1713, Abraham in 1715, Sarah in 1722 and Isaac in  1723. All these children were baptized in St Mary’s Anglican parish church in Harrington, although names such as Abraham and Isaac might hint that there were non-conformist tendencies.

What became of these children? Abraham seems to disappear. Did he become a seamen and die somewhere unrecorded, or did he become a miner? I don’t know.

It seems that Isaac (baptized in 1723 but possibly born before) married Ellenor Sen in 1740, down the coast in Gosforth, Cumberland and had a child called Sarah in 1742 in St Bees.

Jane(1711) had an illegitimate son called Anthony in Arlecdon (Whitehaven) in 1745.

John (1712) married, because he had a son called Henry in nearby St Bees in 1740 and another named Anthony in 1744. This Henry married Elizabeth Hope in Whitehaven in 1761, although a daughter called Sarah had been born the year before, also in Whitehaven. More children followed: John 1767, Elizabeth 1772, Jane 1774, Henry 1777 and William 1779, all born and baptized in Whitehaven. I might return to the fate of these children at a later date. Did William become a Captain in the Muscovy Company or was that someone else? (see here).

Cumberland in 1720

Cumberland in 1720

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workington Harbour

Workington Harbour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workington St Michaels church

Workington St Michaels church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death of John Franklin

Death of John Franklin

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

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

King's Wharf Quebec 1827

King’s Wharf Quebec 1827

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

DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI – PORT OF NEW ORLEANS

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

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

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

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

(Signed)  E. Grisdale

New Orleans Mardi Gras

New Orleans Mardi Gras

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

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

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

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

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

Workington Harbour

Workington Harbour

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

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

Founded on Iron

Founded on Iron

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

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

Liverpool Docks

Liverpool Docks

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

Thames Ironworks Foundry

Thames Ironworks Foundry

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

Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding

Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding

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

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

HMS Sans Pareil - Ready for Launch

HMS Sans Pareil – Ready for Launch

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

Arnold Hills

Arnold Hills

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

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

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

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

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

Thames Ironworks Team 1895

Thames Ironworks Team 1895

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

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

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

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

Joseph Grisdale - Chairman

Joseph Grisdale – Chairman

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

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

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

Sarisbury, Hampshire

Sarisbury, Hampshire

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

The Grisdale family came from the hills of Matterdale in Cumberland. This means that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries most of them were tenant farmers or were involved in rural trades, such as blacksmithing, either in Matterdale itself or in the neighbouring parishes of Watermillock, Threlkeld, Barton, Martindale and Patterdale. Of course some joined the clergy and others either emigrated or went into the army. Yet there were a surprising number who at one point or another made the journey to the nearby Cumbrian ports of Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport to follow a life at sea. Some of them, or their descendents, subsequently moved on to from there to Liverpool and London.

Whitehaven harbour in the nineteenth century

Whitehaven harbour in the nineteenth century

For example, when the American War of Independence started the port of Whitehaven set up a defence fund in early 1778. Local citizens gave quite generously. The contributors included two Grisdales: a certain John Grisdale of Queen Street, who gave £1. 1s , and another, listed mysteriously as ‘Grisdale of Quay’, who gave  2s. The Scottish-born and Whitehaven-trained American privateer John Paul Jones did in fact make a raid on the port on 23 April 1778, which wasn’t of much import really but has become part of American historical naval folklore. Then there was a poignant notice in a Whitehaven newspaper on 27 December 1777 which read,

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

Also in Workington a mariner called Edward Grisdale married Mary Robinson in 1791. He was still there in 1811, as a Captain, living in Town-end. He was the owner of a ship named Mary – probably after his wife. It’s likely that his son, also called Edward and a mariner himself, went to Australia in 1834 and married a convict in Parramatta with whom he had shared the voyage to Sydney on the convict ship Numa. And finally in 1809 we find a Captain William Grisdale in London. He was the master of a Muscovy Company ship which was set to sail for Antigua. Now all of these sea-faring Grisdales found their roots in Matterdale. But their stories are for another time.

My little tale here concerns a Whitehaven mariner called Matthew Grisdale, who disappeared for some years in Victoria in Australia, only to return to Cumberland – where he died shortly thereafter.

Roper Street, Whitehaven

Roper Street, Whitehaven

The story starts with his grandfather, also called Matthew Grisdale, who was born in Martindale, Westmorland in 1852 and who, when young, had moved to Whitehaven and became a successful and ultimately wealthy ‘corn factor’. When he died in 1838 he divided his considerable fortune, somewhat unevenly it seems, between his surviving children. His first child was called John Grisdale (1785 -1852). In his will his father Matthew left him, from his estate of over £10,000, his ‘ house and shop warehouse and premises’ in Whitehaven plus £600 cash and £400 stock. John became a ‘Grocer’. This probably meant he ran some sort of wholesale grocery – think at least the equivalent of Robert Onedin in the TV series The Onedin Line. He carried on his business in a shop at 35 Roper Street, Whitehaven. On 9 October 1815 John married Hannah Watson in Whitehaven. The Watson family was itself a sea-going family. John and Hannah Grisdale had five children; Matthew was the second to be born. He was baptized in Whitehaven’s Holy Trinity Church on 5 April 1820. For reasons we don’t know, but probably influenced by the many family connections to the sea in Whitehaven, Matthew first went to sea as an apprentice in 1935 aged just 15. This means he was on track to become a Mate and maybe even a Captain. Matthew’s seaman’s records tell us that he got his 2nd mate’s ticket in April 1845 when he was 25 – he had a ‘scar on his forehead’. What ships he served on in his early years is unknown,  but given his subsequent career it is likely that at least some of the time he was aboard ships built and owned by the Whitehaven and Liverpool shipping line and ship builders of Thomas and John Brocklebank.

The Brocklebank Line Flag

The Brocklebank Line Flag

In the relatively short period that the government insisted upon each merchant seaman’s every voyage being recorded (the seamen hated the system because it just helped the government to know who it could impress into the Royal Navy) we find that Matthew made several voyages to and from Liverpool between 1845 and 1848 – always listed as being born in Whitehaven.

The last maritime record we have of him was in 1854. After arriving back in Liverpool, he was signed on as a Mate aboard the 338 ton Brocklebank-owned barque Patriot King – which had been built by the Brocklebank shipyard in Bransty, Whitehaven in 1832. And then Matthew disappears from our records. But not quite! In late 1857 in the Melbourne Argus the same notice appeared twice:

If Matthew Grisdale of Whitehaven in the County of Cumberland, England, who sailed from England to Melbourne in July, 1854, will communicate with Mr Clayton, solicitor, Melbourne, or with Messrs Brookbank and Helder, solicitors, Whitehaven, he will hear something to his advantage. Whitehaven 11 March 1857.

Clipper Marco Polo

Clipper Marco Polo

So it seems that Matthew had either jumped ship in Melbourne to join the Victoria gold rush, which thousands of other mariners did at the time, often leaving dozens of ships without any crew. Or (less likely) he had only signed on for the outward voyage, to work his passage to Australia and departed legally. The natural conjecture would be that he had sailed to Australia on the Patriot King, to which he had been signed in 1854. But had he? The Patriot King made many voyages but as far as I can see they were all to India, China, Batavia (Java) and even to South America for the Guano trade. I don’t think the Patriot King ever went to Australia? So maybe Matthew went on another ship. We are told by the Melbourne newspaper notices that he had left ‘England’ for Melbourne in July 1854. Looking at the shipping records it is possible he made his voyage on one of James’ Baines’ Black Ball Line ships regularly plying Liverpool to Melbourne ‘gold rush’ runs. Maybe on the famous Marco Polo commanded by Captain Wild:

The Marco Polo sailed from the Mersey on the 22nd July and reached the equator after 35 days, which included 10 days becalmed in the Bay of Biscay. The only good weather she encountered was on the run from the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Otway, taking 26 days.

There were two or three deaths on the passage, one was a cabin passenger, William Gore Tipper. On the 1st October he was thrown overboard when the ship lurched. It was dark at the time and the ship was travelling at 11 knots, there was no chance of rescue.

Or possibly on the equally famous Star of the East which left Liverpool on the 4 July 1854 and arrived in Melbourne on 23 September 1854.

The newspaper notices in Melbourne in late 1857 were dated 11 March 1857 in Whitehaven and the Whitehaven contact was the firm of solicitors Brookbank and Helder, who dealt with all of the Grisdale family’s legal matters; as well as those of most of the major sea-faring families in the town. We have no idea whether Matthew saw these newspaper notices or not. He was most likely somewhere in the Victoria gold diggings at the time, trying to make his fortune. But it’s a pretty good conjecture that the ‘something to his advantage’ was that he had been left something significant in the will of his unmarried brother William, who had died in Whitehaven in January/February 1857. The dates fit.

The Orwell

The Orwell

Whatever the case, sooner or later Matthew either saw the notices or he decided that he wasn’t going to be one of the lucky few who would strike it rich at the diggings. In 1860 he paid ‘aged 40’ for his own passage home to England on the ship Orwell, which departed from Melbourne for London in July.  The ship made it safely back with Matthew aboard. No doubt when he made it home to Whitehaven he got his inheritance from his brother. Was he able to continue with his maritime career? Did he want to or have to? We don’t know. All we know is that less than four years after his arrival back in England Matthew Grisdale died aged just 43 in Cumberland. The index of his will says the following:

29 February 1864 – Letters of Administration of the Personal Estate and effects of Matthew Grisdale late of Whitehaven… Mariner in the Merchant Service a Bachelor deceased 13 February 1864 at North Mosses in the Parish of Arlecdon… (Effects under £800)

Alecdon is just a couple of miles inland from Whitehaven and many sea-farers retired there. There are also a number of family connections with the village – Matthew’s mother Hannah was even born there.

Maybe Matthew had became ill in Australia? Maybe he died so young for other reasons. Who can say? It’s just one short life, but a full and interesting one I think.

…………………………………………………………….

See also: https://grisdalefamily.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/the-liverpudlian-chairman-of-west-ham-football-club/

What is the connection between England’s most famous Romantic poet and the generally humble Grisdale family? Did Wordsworth ever know there was a connection and if he did would he have cared? A story of parallel universes.

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

One fine late September day in 1800, poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy walked with their brother John the few miles over the hills from their home at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, to Grisedale Tarn, a tiny mountain lake at the head of Grisedale Pass, overlooking Lake Ullswater, in the English Lake District. John had for some months been visiting his family in their native county, but now he had to return to his duties as a Captain of an East India Company ship. Grisedale Tarn was one of John’s favourite spots; he loved to sit and fish there. It was here that William and Dorothy made their farewells and ‘they had waved him off down the path to Patterdale where it leaves Grisedale Tarn’ – from there to proceed to Penrith.

Just over four years later John was shipwrecked and died.  ‘John Wordsworth had sailed early in 1805 in command of the East Indiaman Abergavenny, which was wrecked by the fault of a pilot off the Bill of Portland on 5 Feb. The captain, who behaved with great courage, and over two hundred persons were lost.’

Amelia Murray had seen the loss of the Abergavenny; she wrote:

One morning, coming down early, I saw what I thought was a great big ship without any hull. This was the Abergavenny, East Indiaman, which had sunk with all sails set, hardly three miles from the shore, and all on board perished.

Had any of the crew taken refuge in the main-top, they might have been saved; but the bowsprit, which was crowded with human beings, gave a lurch into the sea as the ship settled down, and thus all were washed off—though the timber appeared again above water when the ‘Abergavenny’ touched the ground. The ship had sprung a leak off St. Alban’s Head; and in spite of pumps, she went to the bottom just within reach of safety.

The Wordsworth siblings were very close, perhaps as a reaction against their rather severe and often absent father, and William was distraught following his brother’s death. It wasn’t too long before he started to put his feelings into his poetry. Later the same year he started to write an elegy to John called: Elegiac Verses in Memory of My Brother, John Wordsworth. The complete verses are reproduced at the end.

The Earl of Abergavenny

The Earl of Abergavenny

It is said that Wordsworth hadn’t wanted to visit Grisedale Tarn again for some time after his brother’s death – it would bring back too painful memories. But on 8 June 1805, in the company of a neighbour, he trekked up to Grisedale Tarn to fish. It was here he started to compose his elegy to his brother. It seems he left in tears, unable to remain, but he returned a few days later with Dorothy and Mary (his wife). “Leaving them behind at Grisedale Tarn, he began to walk in his brother’s footsteps… to Patterdale”

In Memory of My Brother, John Wordsworth, Commander of the E. I. Company’s Ship, The Earl Of Abergavenny, in which He Perished by Calamitous Shipwreck, Feb. 6th, 1805, to give it its full title, wasn’t published until 1842.

Dorothy Wordsworth wrote to her friend Miss Jane Pollard after her brother’s death:

Grisedale Tarn

Grisedale Tarn

… It does me good to weep for him, and it does me good to find that others weep, and I bless them for it. … It is with me, when I write, as when I am walking out in this vale, once so full of joy. I can turn to no object that does not remind me of our loss. I see nothing that he would not have loved, and enjoyed…. My consolations rather come to me in gusts of feeling, than are the quiet growth of my mind. I know it will not always be so. The time will come when the light of the setting sun upon these mountain tops will be as heretofore a pure joy; not the same gladness, that can never be—but yet a joy even more tender. It will soothe me to know how happy he would have been, could he have seen the same beautiful spectacle…. He was taken away in the freshness of his manhood; pure he was, and innocent as a child. Never human being was more thoroughly modest, and his courage I need not speak of. He was ‘seen speaking with apparent cheerfulness to the first mate a few minutes before the ship went down;’ and when nothing more could be done, He said, ‘the will of God be done.’ I have no doubt when he felt that it was out of his power to save his life he was as calm as before, if some thought of what we should endure did not awaken a pang…. He loved solitude, and he rejoiced in society. He would wander alone amongst these hills with his fishing-rod, or led on by the mere pleasure of walking, for many hours; or he would walk with W. or me, or both of us, and was continually pointing out—with a gladness which is seldom seen but in very young people—something which perhaps would have escaped our observation; for he had so fine an eye that no distinction was unnoticed by him, and so tender a feeling that he never noticed anything in vain. Many a time has he called out to me at evening to look at the moon or stars, or a cloudy sky, or this vale in the quiet moonlight; but the stars and moon were his chief delight. He made of them his companions when he was at sea, and was never tired of those thoughts which the silence of the night fed in him. Then he was so happy by the fireside. Any little business of the house interested him. He loved our cottage. He helped us to furnish it, and to make the garden. Trees are growing now which he planted…. He staid with us till the 29th of September, having come to us about the end of January. During that time Mary Hutchinson—now Mary Wordsworth—staid with us six weeks. John used to walk with her everywhere, and they were exceedingly attached to each other; so my poor sister mourns with us, not merely because we have lost one who was so dear to William and me, but from tender love to John and an intimate knowledge of him. Her hopes as well as ours were fixed on John…. I can think of nothing but of our departed Brother, yet I am very tranquil to-day. I honour him, and love him, and glory in his memory…. March 16th, 1805. Grasmere.

After the poet’s death in 1850, at a meeting of The Wordsworth Society held at Grasmere, in July 1881, it was proposed by one of the members, the Rev. H. D. Rawnsley, then Vicar of Wray, to erect some memorial at the parting-place of the brothers. In June 1882 Rawnsley wrote:

A proposition, made by one of its members to the Wordsworth Society when it met in Grasmere in 1881, to mark the spot in the Grisedale Pass of Wordsworth’s parting from his brother John—and to carry out a wish the poet seems to have hinted at in the last of his elegiac verses in memory of that parting—is now being put into effect. It has been determined, after correspondence with Lord Coleridge, Dr. Cradock, Professor Knight, and Mr. Hills, to have inscribed — (on the native rock, if possible)—the first four lines of Stanzas III. and VII. of these verses:

“Here did we stop; and here looked round

While each into himself descends,

For that last thought of parting Friends

That is not to be found.

Brother and friend, if verse of mine

Have power to make thy virtues known,

Here let a monumental Stone

Stand–sacred as a Shrine.”

The rock selected is a fine mass, facing the east, on the left of the track as one descends from Grisedale Tarn towards Patterdale, and is about 100 yards from the tarn. No more suitable one can be found, and we have the testimony of Mr. David Richardson of Newcastle, who has practical knowledge of engineering, that it is the fittest, both from shape and from slight incline of plane.

It has been proposed to sink a panel in the face of the rock, that so the inscription may be slightly protected, and to engrave the letters upon the face of the panel thus obtained. But it is not quite certain yet that the grain of the rock— volcanic ash—will admit of the lettering. If this cannot be carried out, it has been determined to have the letters engraved upon a slab of Langdale slate, and imbed it in the Grisedale Rock .

It is believed that the simplicity of the design, the lonely isolation of this mountain memorial, will appeal at once to the few who pass this way, Traveller or Shepherd.

And we in our turn appeal to English tourists who may chance to see it, to forego the wish of adding to it, or taking anything from it, by engraving their own names; and to let the Monumental Stone stand, as the poet wished it might ‘… stand, sacred as a Shrine.’

The Brothers' Parting Stone

The Brothers’ Parting Stone

The stone was duly engraved and is called The Brothers’ Parting Stone. English and other tourists can still see it to this day, though it is rather weather-worn.

I tell this story mainly because when I first heard it, while walking in the Lake District as a young man, I found it touching. But was the only connection Wordsworth had with the name Grisedale (or Grisdale as William and Dorothy tended to call it, using its older form) the name of the tarn? Not at all, as I will tell.

William Wordsworth was a Romantic poet and he didn’t really understand the working life and people of the Lakes he did so much to eulogize and popularize. Canon Rawnsley interviewed (to use an anachronistic term) quite a few local people after Wordsworth’s death regarding their dealings with the poet. One Westmorland farmer who had met Wordsworth answered Rawnsley’s questions thus:

Why… Wordsworth never said much to folk; quite different from li’le Hartley (Coleridge) as knawed the insides of cottages for miles around, and was welcomed in ’em all.

When asked, “Do you think that he had any friends among the shepherds?” he replied:

Naay, Naay, he cared nowt about folk, nor sheep, nor dogs – his hobby was potry.

It is just not the case that, as one rather starry-eyed American writer I recently had the misfortune to read wrote:

Wordsworth is not simply narrating to his readers what rural life is like; he is demonstrating it to them in the most realistic way that he knows how. Unlike other poets, Wordsworth knows rural life and can properly create a dialogue between two rural figures because he has been in conversation with rural people before. Not only is Wordsworth familiar with rural life, but he is also educated, making it that much easier for him to say what he wants to say in the way he wants to say it, thus portraying rustic living as accurately as he can to an audience that may not have been exposed to a realistic account of rural life before.

The life and work of William Wordsworth and the lives of the common people of the land he loved were parallel universes, they never really touched. If they ‘saw’ each other now and again they quickly ‘unsaw’; to borrow the language of China Mieville’s superb novel The City and The City.

Wordsworth House, Cockermouth

Wordsworth House, Cockermouth

William had of course been born in Cumberland, in 1770, in the ‘pocket’ – and decidedly ‘rotten’ – borough of Cockermouth. His parent’s house, now unsurprisingly called Wordsworth House, was and is ‘the largest, newest (built 1745), and most splendid house in Cockermouth in 1774, so large and splendid that it remains unmatched in the town to this day: this was his “father’s house.” Wordsworth’s birthplace was a spacious town mansion, with impressive drawing rooms on the first floor and plenty of bedrooms for a large family and servants on the second, plus a subterranean ground floor that opened out at the rear to an exquisite long garden running down to the river Derwent.’ Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described Wordsworth House in his book ‘The Buildings of England – Cumberland and Westmorland’ as ‘quite a swagger house for such a town’.

How had such a magnificent house come to be built in a tiny town which at the time ‘consisted of one road enclosed between the Derwent and a wall, with access to the countryside through gates at either end of the street’.

It had been built in 1745 by a gentleman called Joshua Lucock, the then High Sheriff of Cumberland, a member of an old but inbred and struggling aristocratic family. Eventually the family became so inbred that many of them ended up literally mad. And where did Joshua Lucock get the money for such a fine house? The answer is that like so many hard-up aristocrats before and since he had married into wealth derived from despised ‘trade’. He had married Mary Grisdale in 1729. Mary was the only surviving child of Wilfred Grisdale, a Matterdale man ‘made good’.

East End of London

East End of London

Wilfred had gone to London and made a fortune as a brewer in Goodman’s Fields – in the stinking sink of the East End. He soon used this wealth to make himself a gentleman. As early as 1707/1708 he had obviously already made a considerable amount of money because in that year he was able to buy ‘Wood Hall’ (Woodhall), a large manor house near Bridekirk, outside Cockermouth, from the Tolson family. In 1827 Wilfred bought and became the Lord of the Manor of Brigham and Hewthwaite, Bridekirk; and with this he also became the owner of Hewthwaite Hall. The seller was the indebted Jacobite Lord Wharton

When Wilfred Grisdale died in 1732, in his rather complicated will (of which I have a copy) he left the bulk of his wealth to his daughter and her husband – Joshua Lucock. Unfortunately Mary (Grisdale) Lucock didn’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits of her father’s work. She died in 1737, aged only 29. Eleven years late Joshua Lucock was married again, this time to Elizabeth Raisbeck. And in 1745 with the money he had got from his wife he had built what is now Wordsworth House in Cockermouth.

In 1756 the wealthiest and most powerful man in Cumberland and Westmorland (if not in England), James Lowther, later Earl Lonsdale, perhaps the most feared and hated man in England, basically bought Cockermouth lock stock and barrel, ‘at the astronomical cost of £58,000 (over £500,000, in modern terms)’, including, in 1761, Lucock’s house, and put it in his ‘pocket’. It became one of his many pocket boroughs, used to give him more clout in Parliament.

Lowther’s land buying was “not so much investing money … as buying up the perquisites of a social class, the undisturbed control of the life of a neighborhood.”

Lowther appointed William Wordsworth’s father John Wordsworth as his steward and agent for Cockermouth and gave him use of Lucock’s house.  As Kenneth R. Johnston puts it in his excellent study The Hidden Wordsworth:

John Wordsworth Sr. was Lowther’s law or land agent. In the late twentieth century this sounds like the steward or overseer of an estate. But in the mid-eighteenth century it signified mainly a political business agent, or nonstop campaign manager, comprising the tasks of borough monger, ward heeler, vote canvasser, election rigger, briber, and payer-off of innkeepers—none of which were regarded as reprehensible or, within reason, illegal activities. Such agents were not popular, since they tended to treat people as their master treated them.

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth

It was in this house that William Wordsworth and his brothers and sisters were born and raised. ‘John Wordsworth, the poet’s father, moved to Cockermouth as agent to Sir James in 1764, and in 1766 married Anne Cookson and moved rent free into what is now known as Wordsworth House. Here four sons and a daughter were born…. Their mother died on 8 March 1778 when William was eight, and he spent most of his time with relatives in Penrith. His father died in Wordsworth House five years later on 30 December 1783. In 1784 all the children finally left the house to be cared for by relations.’

The poet would later often write about his childhood in what he termed ‘my father’s house’. Here is just one example:

“I, a four years’ child,
A naked boy, among the silent pools
Made one long bathing of a summer’s day,
Basked in the sun, or plunged into thy streams,
Alternate, all a summer’s day, or coursed
Over the sandy fields, and dashed the flowers
Of yellow grunsel; or, when the crag and hill,
The woods, and distant Skiddaw’s lofty height,
Were bronzed with a deep radiance, stood alone
A naked savage in the thunder-shower….”  (1799)

I’m pretty sure that William Wordsworth never knew that his ‘father’s house’ had been built with Grisdale money; money earned in the squalor of the breweries and taverns of London’s East End. He lived, as I’ve said, in a parallel universe.

John Paul Jones' Raid on Whitehaven

John Paul Jones’ Raid on Whitehaven

There are of course other links between England’s most illustrious and revered poet and our simple Grisdale family. On 11 April 1778, when the poet was just eight, and through Lowther family influence, William Wordsworth’s uncle Richard Wordsworth had been appointed Collector of H.M Customs for the important Cumberland port of Whitehaven. A town created and controlled by the Lowthers. Only eleven days later Whitehaven was to witness the raid of Scottish pirate, turned founder Captain of the American Navy, John Paul Jones. After Richard’s death in 1794, two Grisdales were to hold the same position: Benjamin Grisdale, who I wrote about recently and, a little later, William Grisdale, the son of successful corn factor Matthew Grisdale. It would be good to find out what both their relationships were with the Lowther family; because without that family’s support they could never have hoped to be appointed to such prestigious and potentially lucrative positions.

What I call ‘Big History’ isn’t the sweeping narratives of Fernand Braudel’s longue dure, nor is it the deep history of life on earth (both of which I love). It is for me the fact that one can start anywhere at any time and quite easily find connections with other events or people anywhere else at any other time – even if they are parallel universes. How a Matterdale Grisdale’s money built William Wordsworth’s family house is just one example. It’s ‘Six Degrees of Separation’, though the connections often need fewer than six steps.

In Memory of My Brother, John Wordsworth, Commander of the E. I. Company’s Ship, and The Earl Of Abergavenny, in which He Perished by Calamitous Shipwreck, Feb. 6th, 1805:

I

THE Sheep-boy whistled loud, and lo!
That instant, startled by the shock,
The Buzzard mounted from the rock
Deliberate and slow:
Lord of the air, he took his flight;
Oh! could he on that woeful night
Have lent his wing, my Brother dear,
For one poor moment’s space to Thee,
And all who struggled with the Sea,
When safety was so near.

II

Thus in the weakness of my heart
I spoke (but let that pang be still)
When rising from the rock at will,
I saw the Bird depart.
And let me calmly bless the Power
That meets me in this unknown Flower.
Affecting type of him I mourn!
With calmness suffer and believe,
And grieve, and know that I must grieve,
Not cheerless, though forlorn.

III

Here did we stop; and here looked round
While each into himself descends,
For that last thought of parting Friends
That is not to be found.
Hidden was Grasmere Vale from sight,
Our home and his, his heart’s delight,
His quiet heart’s selected home.
But time before him melts away,
And he hath feeling of a day
Of blessedness to come.

IV

Full soon in sorrow did I weep,
Taught that the mutual hope was dust,
In sorrow, but for higher trust,
How miserably deep!
All vanished in a single word,
A breath, a sound, and scarcely heard:
Sea–Ship–drowned–Shipwreck–so it came,
The meek, the brave, the good, was gone;
He who had been our living John
Was nothing but a name.

V

That was indeed a parting! oh,
Glad am I, glad that it is past;
For there were some on whom it cast
Unutterable woe.
But they as well as I have gains;–
From many a humble source, to pains
Like these, there comes a mild release;
Even here I feel it, even this Plant
Is in its beauty ministrant
To comfort and to peace.

VI

He would have loved thy modest grace,
Meek Flower! To Him I would have said,
“It grows upon its native bed
Beside our Parting-place;
There, cleaving to the ground, it lies
With multitude of purple eyes,
Spangling a cushion green like moss;
But we will see it, joyful tide!
Some day, to see it in its pride,
The mountain will we cross.”

VII

–Brother and Friend, if verse of mine
Have power to make thy virtues known,
Here let a monumental Stone
Stand–sacred as a Shrine;
And to the few who pass this way,
Traveller or Shepherd, let it say,
Long as these mighty rocks endure,–
Oh do not Thou too fondly brood,
Although deserving of all good,
On any earthly hope, however pure!

Matterdale is a rural land-locked valley community in the lake district of Cumberland. But Cumberland has another side to it; the flat coastal plain was until comparatively recently a major maritime and industrial entrepôt. Thus it’s not surprising that many members of the Grisdale family have from time to time made their way to the coast, to find work and perhaps to make their fortunes. One such was Matthew Grisdale, who might possibly have been present in Whitehaven, Cumberland, when Benjamin Franklin paid a visit in 1771 and when the Scottish, turned American, naval captain and privateer John Paul Jones raided the port in 1778.

Whitehaven harbour in the nineteenth century

For much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the town of Whitehaven was a major ship building hub, trading port and coal mining town. It only lost its position slowly as Liverpool rose to prominence. Whitehaven was created in the seventeenth century by the powerful local Lowther family, the Earls of Lonsdale. It remained for a long time a sort of company town. The Lowthers also started, owned and developed an extensive coal mining business in Cumberland, particularly in an around Whitehaven where deep coal seems extended far out to sea. Hundreds of ocean-going ships were built by Whitehaven’s ship-builders and vessels carried on a trade in coal, tobacco, corn and even slaves with America, the East and West Indies, Ireland, the Baltic and Africa. It was quite a hive of bustle and business.

It needs to be said that the working conditions of the men and children in Lowther’s Whitehaven coal mines were horrific. In a previous article on The Wild Peak Blog, I gave the description of a Whitehaven trained slave ship Captain, Hugh Crow, of this “white slavery”:

Think for instance of the poor fishermen, during the winter season – some of the greatest slaves in existence. Think of the miserable beings employed in our coal-pits, and in our iron, lead and copper mines – toiling underground in unwholesome air, which is constantly liable to fatal explosions! Think of all the men, women, and children, confined by hundreds, in heated factories, their health rapidly wasting, and their earnings scarce sufficient to keep soul and body together! Think of other slavish employments – often under masters quite as arbitrary and unfeeling as the planters!  Think of the thousands who are rotting in jails for petty offences, to which many of them are driven by want and starvation! Think of the thousands that have been imprisoned – ruined for killing a paltry hare or a partridge! Think of the wretched Irish peasantry! Think of the crowded workhouses – and do not forget to think of poor Jack, who after devoting himself to a life of toil and danger in a vocation to which his country owes much of her prosperity, is dragged by the hair of his head to shed the blood of his fellow creatures at the hazard of his own life; or, perhaps, to wear out an embittered existence in foreign stations, far from those who are nearest and dearest to his affections!

Martindale, Westmorland, Where Matthew was born

Probably quite a change then for a young Matthew Grisdale when he first arrived in the town, probably in the early 1770s. Matthew was born in the rural Westmorland valley of Martindale in 1753, the tenth and last child of parents Solomon Grisdale and Anne Lowther. Martindale is just across Lake Ullswater from Matterdale, and Matterdale-born Solomon farmed there at a place called Hen How. (If you are interested in which Solomon Grisdale of Matterdale was Matthew’s father, please write to me).

Whether Matthew arrived early enough to be present when Benjamin Franklin came to town in 1771 isn’t known, but I like to imagine he was. Franklin came with:

Sir John Pringle on a sort of voyage of scientific interest. It was suggested he visited William Brownrigg, considered one of the greatest scientists of the day, who by then had given up his medical practice in Whitehaven to concentrate on his scientific endeavours at his home of Ormathwaite, near Keswick. Whilst at Keswick, Benjamin Franklin and William Brownrigg carried out an experiment on Derwentwater to investigate if it was true that oil could calm troubled waters. They found that due to the surface tension oil would spread out to a monolayer on the surface of water and thus a surprisingly small amount could reduce the waves over a considerable area.

After his visit Franklin wrote to his wife Deborah:

In Cumberland I ascended a very high mountain, where I had a prospect of a most beautiful country, of hills, fields, lakes, villas, &c., and at Whitehaven went down the coal mines, till they told me I was eighty fathoms under the surface of the sea, which rolled over our heads; so that I have been nearer both the upper and lower regions, than ever in my life before…

Saltom Mine, Whitehaven, where Benjamin Franklin visited

In a letter the following year he wrote to Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg:

On the nature of sea-coal. To M. Dubourg: I visited last summer a large coal-mine at Whitehaven in Cumberland; and in following the vein, and descending by degrees towards the sea, I penetrated below the ocean, where the level of its surface was more than 800 fathom above my head; and the miners assured me that their works extended some miles beyond the place where I then was, continually and gradually descending under the sea. The slate which forms the roof of this coal-mine is impressed in many places with the figures of leaves and branches of fearn (sic), which undoubtedly grew at the surface, when the slate was in the state of sand on the banks of the sea. Thus it appears that this vein of coal has suffered a prodigious settlement. B. F.

It has been suggested that Franklin was starting to think about plate tectonics years, indeed centuries, before they were suggested. In 1782, he wrote again about his Whitehaven visit:

It seemed a proof that there had been a great bouleversement in the surface of that island, some part of it having been depressed under the sea, and other parts, which had been under it, being raised above it. Such changes in the superficial parts of the globe seemed to me unlikely to happen, if the earth were solid at the centre. I therefore imagined that the internal parts might be a fluid more dense, and of greater specific gravity than any of the solids we are acquainted with; which therefore might swim in or upon that fluid. Thus the surface of the globe would be a shell, capable of being broken and disordered by the violent movements of the fluid on which it rested.

John Paul Jones’ Raid on Whitehaven

But a few years later, after the outbreak of the American War of Independence, Whitehaven got another, not so friendly, American visit from Scottish-born John Paul Jones, who was by now one of the first captains in the fledgling US navy as well as a privateer for his own account. Perhaps with the encouragement of Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, in command of the USS Ranger, conducted a brief raid on Whitehaven – the last time a British port was attacked. At 11pm on 22 April, 1778:

Commander John Paul Jones leads a small detachment of two boats from his ship, the USS Ranger, to raid the shallow port at Whitehaven, England, where, by his own account, 400 British merchant ships are anchored. Jones was hoping to reach the port at midnight, when ebb tide would leave the shops at their most vulnerable

Jones and his 30 volunteers had greater difficulty than anticipated rowing to the port, which was protected by two forts. They did not arrive until dawn. Jones’ boat successfully took the southern fort, disabling its cannon, but the other boat returned without attempting an attack on the northern fort, after the sailors claimed to have been frightened away by a noise. To compensate, Jones set fire to the southern fort, which subsequently engulfed the entire town.

Jones knew Franklin well and perhaps he had his permission for this raid. He orders read: “You shall judge best for distressing the Enemies of the United States, by sea or otherwise.

After the raid Benjamin Franklin and John Adams wrote to Jones:

We shall recommend the men who landed with you at Whitehaven, to the favor of Congress, because we think they merited it; but lest our recommendation should miscarry, we wish you to recommend them, and enclose in your letter an extract of this paragraph of ours. As they have done to themselves so much honor in this expedition, perhaps Congress would approve of the deduction of the advance at the time of entry, which they all received from me, being made from their wages in America, that the men may have their prize money here.

Mercants’ Houses in Irish Street – Like the one Matthew lived in in 1811

Whatever the case, Matthew Grisdale had established himself well enough in Whitehaven by 1783 to marry. His wife was Esther Fletcher. Matthew had become a “corn factor” i.e. a trading merchant. Eight children soon followed: John (1785), Joseph (1787), Lowther (1790), Thomas (1792), Ann (1792), and William (1793), Jane (1798) and Mary (1801).

Things obviously were going well for him because by 1811 his business acumen had enabled him to be living in a fine merchant’s house in Irish Street, Whitehaven. By 1828 he was living, presumedly in an even finer house, in Lonsdale Place and by now was called a “Gentleman”.

Matthew died aged 86 in June 1838. In his will dated 13 June 1837, we can see how wealthy Matthew had become. He divided his estate (unequally) between his children. In cash and government debt he bequeathed around £10,000, plus extensive properties, including his house in Lonsdale Place plus warehouse and shop in Roper Street and extensive household goods. He had done very well!

Many of Matthew and Esther’s children had interesting lives themselves: John became a grocer in Whitehaven, Lowther went to university, became a clergyman and school-master, and was for 28 years the headmaster of Bolton Grammar School in Lancashire, Thomas moved to Liverpool and became a pawn-broker, while William became, like his name-sake Benjamin Grisdale, the manager of Whitehaven’s Customs House. But those stories are for a later date.