Posts Tagged ‘Wilfred Grisdale’

This is the story of four Penrith Grisdale sisters born in the 1850s and early 1860s. Their lives turned out to be very different but they always kept in close touch to the end even when thousands of miles apart. The girls were Ann, Agnes, Emma and Hannah. Agnes Grisdale was my great grandmother.

First we need to say a little about the girls’ parents. Their father was a Penrith carpenter called Wilfred – what else! Born in 1815 in Penrith, Wilfred was the first of nine children of William Grisdale and his wife Mary Charters. Strangely enough in this rural town, William, helped by his wife, was a ‘Dancing Master’. I wrote a little about them before (see here).

Wilfrid_Grisdale1

Wilfred Grisdale, the sisters’ father and my 2x great grandfather

William’s was a family that spread all over the world from its origins in Matterdale: William’s brother Wilfred emigrated with his family to Canada in 1816/7 (see here); his son William emigrated to the goldfield town of Mansfield in Australia and had many adventures there (see here and here); while his London-born niece (his brother Gideon’s only child) first became a ballet dancer in Drury Lane, then married a famous painter called John William Gear, emigrated with him to Boston where he committed suicide, and ended up hawking fish in Falmouth in Cornwall (see here). There are others I could discuss.

Coming back to Wilfred, the girls’ father, he grew up with his brothers and sisters in Penrith, no doubt seeing his parents go off each day to teach dancing. But he obviously didn’t have such a bent and having done an apprenticeship he followed the more usual family route and became a joiner/carpenter.

The family lived in Rawcliffe Lane. In 1837 Wilfred married Penrith girl Hannah Robinson in St. Andrew’s church, where hundreds of the family had been and would be baptized, married and buried. Over the next ten years Wilfred and Hannah had seven children: William, Joseph, Thomas, Mary Ann, Wilfred, Elizabeth and Sarah. No doubt worn out by all this child-bearing Hannah died in 1853 at the age of thirty five.

Wilfrid Grisdale2

Wilfred Grisdale again in his Penrith garden

Wilfred was left with all these children. What was he to do? Men in those days, and perhaps still today, couldn’t do without a wife and a mother for their children. If Wilfred couldn’t get another wife soon the options were the orphanage and the workhouse. So in 1855 only two years after his wife’s death he married the widowed Elizabeth Nicholson (nee Hayton), who brought with her two Nicholson children. So now there were nine children. But not content with this Wilfred and Elizabeth soon produced four more daughters, the subject of this story: Ann 1856, Agnes 1858, Emma 1860 and Hannah 1863.

As the girl’s were growing and some of their older half-siblings started to leave, the family was living in Rawcliffe Lane, the same street as Wilfred’s parents.

Wilfred Grisdale spent his last years as the caretaker of Penrith’s Liberal Club in Devonshire Street. He loved horses and gardening and died in Penrith in 1893 aged seventy-seven.

That’s enough factual genealogical background. Let me consider the later lives of the four sisters, in the order of their birth.

Ann Grisdale 1856 – 1937

Nathan, Ann & Douglas

Nathan and Ann (Grisdale) Thomlinson with son Dougie

Oldest sister Ann Grisdale married Westmorland farmer turned ‘Mineral water Carter’ and travelling salesman Nathan Thomlinson in Penrith in 1893. The family stayed in Penrith, living first at in Benson Row before moving sometime during the First World War to 146 Graham Street where they died: Ann in 1937 and Nathan in 1941.

They had two children but one died young. Wilfred Douglas Thomlinson (yes Wilfred again!) was born in 1895. He joined the Border Regiment in 1913 before the outbreak of war and served throughout the war in the Machine Gun Corps, mostly in India but also in North Africa. He became a Sergeant and was demobilized in 1919.

Wilfred Douglas has some family still living not far from Penrith.

Agnes Grisdale 1858 – 1925

Agnes Grisdale

Agnes Grisdale

Agnes was my great grandmother. Somehow and somewhere she met the Shropshire-born railway ‘fireman’ and later engine driver Frederick Lewis who lived in Southport in Lancashire. Although trains certainly came to Penrith, I think Agnes had for some reason moved to Southport sometime prior to 1885 but after 1881 when she was still with her parents working as a general domestic servant. The reason is that when Agnes married Frederick on 30 April 1885 in Southport’s St. Andrew’s church, they both said they resided in Southport. Their first child William was born in December; as I say again later: do the maths yourself. Over the next seventeen years nine more Southport children were born, making ten in total: Edith 18887, Wilfred 1889, Percy 1890, Winifred 1892, Agnes 1894, Herbert 1896, Gertrude 1898, Reginald 1900 and Edith 1902.

Throughout this time Frederick was a railway engine driver.

Notice all the ‘Grisdale’ names: Wilfred, Agnes and William, although William Lewis was Frederick’s father.

Briefly said, William Lewis 1885 joined the Royal Navy as a gunner, was commissioned in the First World War, and served for thirty years. He lived near the Chatham naval dockyards in Kent; one of William’s sons was a RAF pilot and was killed in Algeria in 1944 (see here). Son Wilfred became a carpenter like his father but found it difficult to find work so he emigrated to Massachusetts in 1911 and was soon followed by three of his sisters: Agnes, Edith and Gertrude, but only Wilfred and Agnes stayed. Percy Lewis followed his father by becoming a Southport-based engine driver all his life; he was my grandfather.

Frederick Lewis died in Southport 1913 aged fifty-two. Agnes (Grisdale) Lewis died in the same place in 1925 aged sixty-seven.

fred lewis family

Frederick Lewis (top middle) with siblings in Southport in 1882

Obviously I never knew Agnes or Frederick, but I did know several of their children. My ‘American’ grand aunt Agnes Lewis (Agnes Grisdale’s daughter), who was said to be very like her mother, was one of the jolliest people I have ever met.  My ‘American’ grand uncle Wilfred was dearly beloved by his Massachusetts family, not a thing that is said about my Royal Navy grand uncle William.

Agnes Grisdale’s descendants today live in the United States, England, France and even Hong Kong.

Emma 1860 – 1930

Plumpton1 (7)

Stone Mason William Lowthian with parents and son in Plumpton

Now let’s turn to the third sister Emma, born in Penrith in 1860. After living with her parents, sisters and various half siblings, she became a domestic servant in the town. In 1887 she married the Plumpton Stone Mason William Nicholson Lowthian in Penrith – William was seven years her junior.  They had four sons in Plumpton: Joseph William Simpson Lowthian 1887, Herbert Stanley Lowthian 1889, Tom Simpson Lowthian 1896 and Wilfred Edward Lowthian 1902. The family lived in first in a cottage Brockley Moor and then for most of their lives in England at ‘Hill Top’, both in Plumpton Wall.

By 1903 Emma’s eldest son Joseph W. S. had started work in Carlisle as a railway clerk with the London & North-western railway. He was still there in 1911. It was probably through his work with the railway that Joseph had the idea of emigrating to Canada. It might even have been that he had a job offer from the Canadian Pacific Railway, for whom he was to work until his retirement.

1911 was a busy year: on 2 April he was still single and working as a railway clerk in Carlisle, he must then have immediately married local Carlisle girl Phoebe Hodgson Couling before departing a few days later from Liverpool on the steamship Tunisian which arrived in Halifax Nova Scotia on the 14 April. Joseph said he was a clerk and would be that too in Canada, giving his destination as Winnipeg. Whether he ever went to Winnipeg I don’t know because in 1911 he came to Revelstoke, B.C., where he went to work for the Canadian Pacific railway. Phoebe, by now pregnant, arrived in Quebec on the ship Laurentic on 15 July 1911 and took the train to Revelstoke. There their first daughter Amy Elizabeth was born in November – you can do the maths yourself. Another daughter Phoebe was born in 1917, but mother Phoebe died giving birth, aged just thirty-one.

Plumpton2 (5)

Emma (Grisdale) Lowthian with her four sons outside their house in Plumpton before they started the move to Canada and the US

But going back to Cumberland, Emma’s husband, the Stone Mason William Lowthian, had died in 1912 aged forty-five. Two years later Emma’s third son Tom Simpson followed his brother to Canada and settled in Field, British Columbia, where he too became an ‘agent’ on the railway. Tom was drafted into the Canadian army, went to fight in France but returned safely at the end of 1918. Back in England in 1915 his younger brother Herbert Stanley, by now living in Penrith, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was killed in Flanders in 1917.

Portland

Portland, Oregon in the 1920s

All this left Emma and her youngest son Wilfred Edwin the only members of the family still in England. This changed in 1922 when they both arrived in Canada on the S/S Montrose, their passages having been paid by Joseph in ‘Vancouver’. Emma said she was coming ‘to keep house for son (who is a widower)’. Actually Joseph had already moved from Vancouver to Seattle in Oregon in 1918, where he was working in the Canadian Pacific’s traffic department as a ticket agent; he moved again to Portland in 1924 and ‘was retired on pension June 30, 1952’. He died in 1953 having been married briefly again in 1924 to an interesting Washington D.C. woman called Maude Sedalia Proctor (worthy of a separate story). He somewhere also had a daughter called Mary.

Brother Tom Simpson moved from Vancouver to Seattle after his marriage in 1924 and had two sons there. Brother Wilfred (Fred) moved to Washington State, married and had one son also called Wilfred.

Emma (Grisdale) Lowthian died in Portland in 1930 aged 70; many of her descendents still live in Oregon, Washington and elsewhere in the United States.

Hannah Grisdale 1863 – 1947

grisdale family garden

The four Grisdale sisters together

Unfortunately we don’t know much about the youngest sister Hannah; all I have are a few pictures. She never married and after a life in domestic service in Cumberland and Cheshire died in 1947 in Carlisle aged eighty-four. Perhaps it was because she wasn’t worn out by having children that she lived so long?

I know this has been a bit of a wiz through countless lives, each one of which probably merits a story of its own. To finish I’d like to mention two things. First, I said that the sisters always kept in touch. I know this is true from communications with various descendants of the sisters. Letters were sent backwards and forwards from Oregon. The Thomlinsons and the Lewis’s visiting each other. When Agnes Grisdale died in 1925 flowers and greeting came from the Oregon family. I have lots of other examples.

In my own grandfather’s diary I find several mentions of him going to visit his cousin ‘Dougie’ Thomlinson (i.e. the ex-soldier Wilfred Douglas Thomlinson). But by now all the personal links are gone. When we discover a relative linked to us by the four sisters we are surprised, and I hope delighted too. Such is the way of the world.

wilfred-grisdales-house-in-deerfield

Wilfred Grisdale’s house in Deerfield, Michigan. His father, grandfather and great grandfather were all called Wilfred!

Second, I want to mention the name Wilfred. In my Grisdale lineage it is almost the defining family feature, like say Robert is in other lines. It all goes back to the Dockray, Matterdale Blacksmith Wilfred Grisdale (1711 – 1795). Very late in life Wilfred had a number of children with his second wife Ruth Slee. From them are sprung the literally hundreds of Wilfred Grisdales, or people with Wilfred as a middle name, who were and are found throughout the world. This is true in Canada and the United States as well as in Britain. It was even once true in Australia. See here for just one example.

Not only was there my 2x great grandfather, the Wilfred Grisdale I began with, but my ‘American’ grand uncle was called Wilfred Lewis too.

Now this Blacksmith Wilfred was not the first of that name in Matterdale, he was the second. The first was a Wilfred Grisdale born in 1675 in Hollas (The Hollows). He went on to make a fortune in London as a brewer before returning to Cumberland as a lord of the manor. Even after his death his money paid to build Wordsworth House in Cockermouth where the Lakeland poet William Wordsworth was born and raised (see here).

percy in us

My grandfather Percy Lewis with two of his brother Wilfred’s grandchildren in Massachusetts the 1950s

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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!